Washington, D.C. Takes A Baby Step Towards Decriminalization Of Marijuana


marijuana decriminalization

DC’s City Council took a step backwards on the decriminalization of marijuana use on Tuesday. Perhaps in the name of appeasing Mayor Vincent Grey’s belief that removing the threat of jail time will result in widespread consumption of the drug, the council voted 11-1 on a watered down effort to decriminalize marijuana use.

The watered down bill makes possession a civil offense, while smoking in public remains a criminal offense with a maximum jail sentence of 60 days. (Currently, the maximum sentence is six months.)  Other changes are likely before this bill becomes law. Hopefully these changes won’t further water down a bill that once had promise of reflecting the will of most Washingtonians who want marijuana decriminalized.

Before going further, I should disclose that I do not smoke pot and probably won’t in the future. However, criminalization has proven to be a bad policy – in DC and nationwide.

Aside from the fact that other behaviors that are more adverse to people’s health are legal, behaviors like alcohol consumption are also a danger to others.  In that respect, the criminalization of marijuana was never about taking on the role of nanny state and protecting people from their own choices because logically speaking, it amounts to saying some unhealthy behaviors are “good” but others are “bad.”

Moreover, criminalization has only further entrenched racism within the justice system.  If one looks at the national average for marijuana consumption based on race, we see that the proportion of use is higher among white people than blacks.  Yet, African-Americans face a higher conviction rate than their white counter-parts.  In D.C. 90% of the people arrested for marijuana possession are African-American.

Faced with that reality, Councilman Tommy Wells identified one of the core problems with the current policy.

I realize that smelling marijuana is offensive to you to and that you wouldn’t want your daughter to … think that’s okay … But it’s also not okay to criminalize a whole segment of our society.

Also, the Mayor’s belief about wide spread use doesn’t bare scrutiny when one looks at the rate of consumption in countries where marijuana is legal.  According to a study that compares pot usage in the United States and the Netherlands , cannabis consumption among teenagers in the Netherlands is lower than in the United States. While there is a slight increase in usage among adults in the Netherlands, the study shows that legalization does not result in “widespread use.”

Apparently, the ban on use of marijuana in public places is based on, at least one Council member’s concern that decriminalization somehow says it’s “okay” to children. I’m not waiting for the Council to apply this logic to destructive behaviors that are done in public like smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol and for that matter eating unhealthy foods.

All of those are legal, but I suspect parents have figured out how to convey to their children that while smoking cigarettes and eating unhealthy food is legal, both of these behaviors are bad for one’s health.

Similarly, I suspect that parents have the ability to explain to their children that while drinking alcohol is legal, it too has health consequences, more so if one drinks in excess and gets behind the wheel of a car.

Still, I guess a baby step forward is better than no step at all.

Image: marijuana.com

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