Washington, DC Mayor Vincent Gray recently signed legislation to decriminalize marijuana possession and reduce penalties from arrest to a small fine. This is an important step forward for a city that arrests one person for marijuana possession every two hours on average: the highest per capita marijuana arrest rate in the country.
But because of Washington, DC’s unique status as a federal district, Congress can veto local laws like this one. This is especially unfair considering that the people of DC do not have any representation in Congress.
That’s why Just Say Now activists from around the country are calling their representatives and asking them to pledge to permit the people of Washington, DC to reform their local marijuana laws without interference.
Congress has previously worked to stop marijuana reforms in its hometown for over a decade and we can’t let that happen again. In 1998, Washington DC residents voted overwhelmingly in support of Initiative 59, which would have regulated medical marijuana in the nation’s capital. But Congress intervened and passed the ‘Barr Amendment,’ which blocked the legislation — and any future law that would “decrease the penalties for marijuana or other Schedule I drugs” in the city.
Times have certainly changed since 1998, so much so that Bob Barr himself cheered on the repeal of his eponymous amendment in 2009. But that doesn’t mean it can’t happen again. Medical marijuana is finally taking root in the city, and advocates are working to collect signatures to put full legalization on the November ballot. As my colleague Jon Walker noted, DC’s likely next mayor Muriel Bowser supports legalization. With numerous reforms facing the city in short order, we need to begin asking our members of Congress to pledge to let the city make its own decisions.
Washington, DC badly needs this reform. According to a report put out by the ACLU just last year, DC not only has the highest arrest rate per capita for marijuana possession, but also has one of the highest rates of racial disparity in arrests. Washington DC’s black residents are over 8 times more likely to be arrested than their white counterparts for the same crime. By reducing penalties for possession, we can take significant steps towards fixing this gross injustice.
So long as your member of Congress doesn’t act to block this bill, we will see real reform come to Washington, DC.
Image by Mike Licht under Creative Commons license