Before Wednesday at midnight, getting caught smoking or being in possession of pot in D.C. would have garnered dire consequences. Thankfully, a new bill to legally decriminalize marijuana went into effect that will change the way officials will deal with these situations moving forward.
Under The Simple Possession of Small Quantities of Marijuana Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2013 that went into effect on Thursday, the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia must revise their protocol for dealing with people caught smoking marijuana. The bill was introduced earlier this year but had to sit before a congressional panel for 60 days under special governance rules.
The new law reduces the ramifications of smoking marijuana from a potential $1,000 fine and a year in jail to a misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of $500 and no more than 6 months in jail — a charge similar to having an open container of alcohol in public. Civil violations of possession will be punished with a $25 ticket that can be appealed.
Officers will no longer be allowed to arrest or assign extensive jail or prison sentences to people who have or are smoking marijuana. Police may no longer require identification from anyone carrying up to an ounce and can’t take any kind of action if they smell marijuana. Additionally, people can also carry paraphernalia associated with smoking including bongs and rolling papers without the risk of being arrested.
To be clear, decriminalization does not equal legalization of cannabis, but it does reduce the consequences associated with of the possession or use of it. A person can still face criminal charges and be arrested for selling to anyone, operating a motor vehicle or boat under the influence of marijuana and smoking, eating or drinking marijuana in any public space.
The Office of Administrative Hearings will be responsible for dealing with civil violations while the D.C. Office of the Attorney General will handle all misdemeanor charges. Because marijuana is still not legal under federal law, D.C. residents who possess or use cannabis can still be arrested by federal law enforcement officers and face prosecution by the United States Attorney General.
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