Posted: 6:11 a.m. Friday, July 18, 2014

Understanding D.C.'s new pot laws


The United States Capitol photo
Architect of the Capitol
The western front of the United States Capitol. The Neoclassical style building is located in Washington, D.C., on top of Capitol Hill at the east end of the National Mall.

By Matt Picht

Video transcript provided by


It's official: Washington D.C. has decriminalized possessing small amounts of marijuana. But the the new law probably doesn't allow users to toke freely, and the reasoning behind the change has little to do with the drug itself. (Via Getty Images)

The basic rules are as follows: Possessing or trading an ounce of pot in D.C. used to be punishable by jail time. Now, it's just a $25 ticket. That goes for drug paraphernalia as well, though everything is confiscated when a citation is written. (Via WJLA)

The Washington City Paper is even offering to pay the $25 fine for the first five people who send in their stories about getting busted under the new law.

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But D.C. police make it clear that marijuana is still illegal—buying, selling, consuming pot in public places is still prohibited, as is operating a vehicle or boat under the influence. And if you have over an ounce of pot on you, you're out of luck.

The original legislation was less about legalizing pot and more about curbing the city's racially biased arrest record. Black D.C. residents were eight times more likely than white residents to be busted for possessing pot, despite similar usage rates between the two groups, according to a 2013 ACLU report found.

Decriminalizing pot doesn't always solve the problem, however, and results of looser pot laws can have different effects from state to state, Vox reports.

One expert told the outlet, "If you think it's actually racism, then what you'd expect is the cops will figure out some other reason to arrest those black kids. ... You have to ask when you do this, how will law enforcement react?"

If House Republicans have their way, the decriminalization law might not be around for long. GOP representatives attached a caveat to the latest D.C. funding bill preventing the city from enforcing the new regulations with city funds. (Via Roll Call)

That funding bill passed the House last month with an additional GOP provision gutting D.C.'s gun laws. The resulting bill is currently awaiting Senate approval, but President Obama's office says he's likely to veto the bill if it gets that far. (Via The BlazeDCist)

On the flip side of things, D.C. residents might get a chance to vote on full marijuana legalization this November, thanks to a ballot initiative submitted earlier this month by the D.C. Cannabis Campaign.