Washington D.C. Councilmember and Mayoral candidate Tommy Wells (D – Ward 6) proposed a bill today that would decriminalize marijuana in the nation’s capital. Possession of up to an ounce would be punishable by a civil fine of $100 rather than by the current threat of jail time. The bill was also backed by Marion Barry (D – Ward 8).
Wells told reporters that decriminalization would save youths who are caught with small amounts of marijuana from becoming entangled in the criminal justice system and losing out on future employment opportunities.
The bill has arrived at an interesting time for marijuana reform advocates. Last month, the American Civil Liberties Union released a report which found that D.C. leads the nation in marijuana possession arrests per capita. The study also found that arrests in the District were racially biased: African-Americans were eight times more likely than whites to be arrested on marijuana charges. According to D.C. police statistics, there were roughly 4,300 marijuana possession arrests in 2011.
Surveys indicate that a majority of D.C. residents agree with Wells’ proposal. An April poll by Public Policy Polling found that 75% of D.C. residents support decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana. Additionally, 63% support taxing and regulating marijuana for adults.
MPP spokesman Morgan Fox was quoted in the Huffington Post as saying, “It is time to adopt a more sensible marijuana policy in our nation’s capital, and that is what Councilman Wells has proposed.”
Robin Room, the director of Australia’s leading alcohol research center, has released a statement calling for the legalization of marijuana for adults. His support is based on research showing that marijuana is a less harmful alternative to alcohol.
Professor Room said that if teenagers chose to use a substance in excess, they would be much safer after consuming marijuana than after binging on alcohol. “Cannabis is not without harm,” Room said, “but it’s substantially less than alcohol and tobacco in terms of social harm.”
He has said that the best way to reduce alcohol-fueled violence is by legalizing and regulating marijuana.
While Australia has not always been at the forefront of rational marijuana debate, it is good to see that science is winning. The relative safety of marijuana compared to alcohol is finally starting to be recognized throughout the world.