DC Councilmember Tommy Wells

The push has begun to decriminalize marijuana in Washington DC. At a press conference today City Councilmember Tommy Wells introduced a new bill to significantly reduce the penalties for possession of a small amount of marijuana. The DC council is the highest level of local government in DC serving a similar role as a state legislature.

Under the bill possession of up to an ounce of marijuana would result in only a $100 fine for adults. People under the age of 18 caught with marijuana would also be required to attend a drug awareness program. Currently possession of marijuana in the District of Columbia is punishable by up to a $1,000 fine and six months in jail.

A recent American Civil Liberties Union report shows that DC is in desperate need of reform. It has one of the highest rates of arrest for marijuana possession in the country. While the city is racially mixed almost everyone arrested for marijuana in DC is African-American. Even though whites and blacks tend to use marijuana at similar rates the study found in DC African Americans are incredibly eight times more likely be arrested for possession.

Polling done for the Marijuana Policy Project early this year shows that an overwhelming 75 percent of DC voters support decriminalization.

Hopefully the council will move quickly on the bill and join the 17 states that have already legalized or decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana. If the council doesn’t act supporters of marijuana reform are also looking at a possible back up plan. A marijuana decriminalization initiative could potentially be put on the ballot in 2014 if need be.