A marijuana decriminalization law passed by the D.C. Council this spring took effect today, the Washington Post reports. The advent of the new law, prompted by reports of stark racial disparities in marijuana arrests, will lead to a sea change in how police handle one of the most common violations they encounter. Under new orders, police can no longer take action upon simply smelling the odor of marijuana. Nor can they demand that a person found in possession of up to 1 ounce produce identification. Those found with larger amounts or caught using marijuana in public places can still be arrested and charged with a crime. Otherwise, officers who catch someone carrying weed will be required simply to confiscate any visible contraband and write a ticket carrying a $25 fine.
Street officers will probably be uneasy with the changes, said Delroy Burton, chairman of the D.C. police union, even though the department has circulated a lengthy special order and created a PowerPoint presentation on how to make arrests. Burton criticized the new law as too vague and confusing to officers on the street, and he said those who must enforce it had little input into its creation. “This is not a simple issue,” he said. “It's about enforcement and decriminalization and where you draw the line of what officers can do and cannot do. Our officers are going to have to go out there and enforce a convoluted mess.” The department has prepared wallet-size cards laying out key facts about the law, and information will also be posted at www.mpdc.dc.gov/marijuana