Gray Signs D.C.’s Marijuana Decriminalization Bill, Norton Vows to Defend it

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Posted March 31, 2014 at 7:26pm

Mayor Vincent Gray quietly signed Washington, D.C.’s marijuana decriminalization measure on Monday, sending one of the nation’s most potent pot bills to Congress for review.  

Gray received the measure, sponsored by mayoral candidate and Ward 6 D.C. Councilmember Tommy Wells, last week and signed the bill with little fanfare one day before the April 1 Democratic primary in which the two will face off.  

“This is a victory for the District and a victory for justice,” Wells said in a statement. “This bill is a tremendous stride to end the disproportionate sociological and economic impact of marijuana arrests on African Americans – arrests that pull families apart and keep our residents from jobs, higher education and housing opportunities.” Sponsoring the bill helped earn Wells the endorsement of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws and the Marijuana Policy Project. In a conversation with CQ Roll Call on Monday, Wells offered those two groups as an example of the progressive alliance that is helping his campaign gain momentum in the final days of the race.  

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., predicted the bill would have a “beneficial effect” and said it reinforces her work with the Congressional Caucus on Black Men and Boys, which she co-founded with Rep. Danny K. Davis, D-Ill., last year.  

“The law does not intend to encourage marijuana smoking, but to discourage the needless and disproportionate effect marijuana laws have on African American men and boys — criminal records that often affect them for the rest of their lives,” Norton continued.  

“While I do not expect Congress to interfere with D.C.’s right to pass a local law on marijuana decriminalization, just as 17 states have already done, I will resolutely defend this right from any attempted congressional meddling.”  

The bill drops the possession of an ounce or less of marijuana from a criminal offense, which carries up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine, down to a civil offense with a fine of $25. It’s the smallest monetary fine of any of the states that have decriminalized the drug, outside of Alaska. Though it’s not as strong as Wells had hoped , the measure also reduces the maximum penalty for smoking marijuana from a $1,000 fine and six months in jail, down to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine. Production, sale, and possession of over an ounce would remain a criminal offense.  

The bill is subject to a 60-day review period by Congress.