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District of Columbia

If all goes well, possession of less than an ounce of marijuana will soon be decriminalized in the nation’s capital. Wednesday the D.C. Council took the first step towards adopting the Marijuana Possession Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2014. The bill unanimously won approval in committee so it will soon go before a vote of the full council where it is expected to pass.

The measure would make possession of small amount of marijuana only a civil infraction punished with a small fine. For adults possession would only result in a $25 fine, while being caught smoking it would result in a $100 fine. It would basically become the equivalent of a parking ticket.

Currently in the district marijuana possession is a misdemeanor offense. It can result in up to six months in prison and a $1,000 fine.

Growing popular support for marijuana reform and a recent ACLU report on racial disparity in marijuana arrests helped push the council to take action. It found African-Americans in D.C. are eight times more likely to be arrested for marijuana use than whites.

Assuming the bill is approved, it will actually give Congress a chance to weigh in on the issue of marijuana reform. Because of the incredibly unfair and anti-democracy federal laws that govern the district, Congress has the ability to overrule any law the council adopts even though the citizens of the district have no vote in Congress. In the past Congress actually used this power to stop D.C. from implementing medical marijuana for over a decade.