D.C. Decriminalizes Pot; Possession Now a $25 Fine - FindLaw Blotter
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D.C. Decriminalizes Pot; Possession Now a $25 Fine

Washington, D.C.'s marijuana decriminalization law is now in effect, reducing the penalty for simple marijuana possession to a $25 fine.

The District of Columbia now joins 17 states in reducing penalties for first-time pot possession to a civil, not criminal offense, Reuters reports. The District's law makes possession of an ounce or less of marijuana by anyone 18 and older a civil offense punishable by only a $25 fine and the seizure of drugs and paraphernalia.

What does this new weed law mean for D.C. pot possessors?

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D.C. Pot Law in Effect

The law in question was actually passed back in March, but it went into effect Thursday (July 17); this is because every D.C. law faces a 60-day Congressional waiting period before taking effect. (If you're worried that the math doesn't add up, that's 60 Congressional days -- which is closer to three months.)

In addition to reducing the possession of an ounce or less of marijuana to essentially a $25 ticket, the law also:

  • Exempts possession of pipes, bongs, or other paraphernalia from criminal violation in association with simple possession;
  • Adds an additional fine for those who refuse to provide a valid name and address to officers wanting to enforce the $25 fine (although it doesn't require documentation);
  • Establishes a substance-abuse treatment fund where revenue from the $25 pot tickets will go;
  • Prohibits public marijuana smoking (including vaporizers) and even simply holding a lit pipe or joint;
  • Exempts positive marijuana drug test results from a probation violation (of a controlled substances condition); and
  • Exempts possession of one ounce or less of marijuana, or the smell of marijuana, from reasonable suspicion or probable cause of a crime.

This is a significant legal change in the law enforcement atmosphere for pot users, and it will be interesting to see how D.C. officers comply with these new rules.

Campaign to Spread the Word

In an effort to let D.C. residents know about the changes in the law, the Drug Policy Alliance told the website DCist that the group is going to introduce a major campaign to clear up what is criminal and what isn't.

For the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department's part, it's distributing "wallet-sized explainer cards" about the nuances of D.C.'s pot decriminalization. Hopefully these campaigns are effective in defeating ignorance and misinformation around the new law.

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