Today is a historic day in the District of Columbia.
For the first time in recent memory, District residents, tourists, and even members of Congress will no longer be arrested, photographed, fingerprinted and subjected to jail time if they’re caught by a police officer engaging in recreational marijuana use. The “Marijuana Possession Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2014,” adopted by the District of Columbia city council in April, has finally taken effect. The Act replaces criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana with a $25 civil fine, as well as forfeiture of the marijuana and any drug paraphernalia.
After finally passing a 60-day Congressional review and dodging a busybody Congressman from Maryland who attempted to block the law’s enforcement, D.C.’s marijuana decriminalization law went into effect at midnight, and it will substantially alter the way the nation’s capital deals with drug laws that have been proven to disproportionately affect poor, minority youths. (Despite roughly equal usage rates, black Americans are 3.73 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana.)
The D.C. law also decreases many marijuana-related drug offenses, including:
- The maximum penalties for possession of marijuana are dropped from a $1,000 fine and six-month jail sentence to $500 and a 60-day sentence.
- Police can no longer search a suspect if they believe they smell marijuana.
- Police can not demand that a person found in possession of up to one ounce of marijuana produce identification, but they must give a name and address.
- Police cannot arrest a person for being impaired in a public place or on someone’s private property.
The Metropolitan Police Department has prepared a special information packet online with the following information card about the new marijuana laws, in case anyone is confused or thinks that it’s suddenly cool to smoke weed.
It’s also important for tourists to note that “the U.S. Park Police can arrest a person for possessing or using any marijuana on the National Mall, Rock Creek Park, or any other National Park Service land” according to MPDC.