Washington, D.C.’s Council today is poised to make the city one of the nation's most lenient for marijuana possession, easing penalties that most often ensnare African Americans including a potential one-year jail sentence that is expected to be reduced to a $25 fine, reports the Washington Post. To keep the odor of marijuana from wafting across the nation's capital, city lawmakers pulled back from an even more liberal proposal to buffer residents from arrest: Smoking marijuana in public would remain a crime, akin to toting an open can of beer, and would carry a maximum penalty of up to six months in jail.
Amid growing support locally and nationally for legalizing marijuana, D.C. lawmakers said they are acting out of an interest in greater social justice when it comes to pot arrests, not civil liberties to allow more drug use. By leapfrogging many states in loosening its marijuana laws, the city is firmly planting itself in a national debate over legalization — even as questions remain about how much a new law might accomplish. Decriminalizing possession of marijuana, but leaving the act of smoking the drug a crime, critics say, will keep alive concerns about racial profiling in arrests. It also will add gray areas in policing: D.C. officers would not be able to arrest on the smell of marijuana, for instance; they would have to see the smoke. And being marijuana-impaired in public would not be a crime equal to public intoxication — unless it occurs behind the wheel.