Since medical marijuana was first approved in 2010, there have been some changes in how the Washington, D.C., government looks at marijuana usage, so much so that the mayor recently said that District officials should keep an open mind about relaxing or decriminalizing recreational marijuana use. As it is, someone charged with misdemeanor marijuana possession can be sentenced to prison for six months and be forced to pay a $1,000 fine. This is double the punishment that someone would face if they had just crossed the border into Montgomery County.
Though other members of the City Council may think that it is unlikely the city will be able to decriminalize the substance, there have been other suggestions of making possession of small amounts of marijuana legal across the country. One state’s governor has said that even the lightest punishments for misdemeanor marijuana possession are still giving young adults a criminal record. So, in an effort to prevent people from getting a potentially life-long record, he has suggested that possession of no more than 25 grams of marijuana should only result in a $100 fine.
One of the reasons why the District of Columbia is different, however, is because most criminal trials in the District are prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. This means that federal attorneys are going to expect that the District’s laws comply with those of the federal government. Though the U.S. Attorney’s Office will prosecute many of the marijuana trials that arise, it does not mean that the Council does not have the power to change its own laws.
If higher ups in D.C. are really concerned about the fate of young adults caught with relatively minor amounts of marijuana, they should not let the U.S. Attorney hold any sway over whether they choose to modify a law that is otherwise overly harsh and problematic.
Source: The Washington Post, “Marijuana decriminalization unlikely in D.C., officials say,” Tim Craig, June 5, 2012