The D.C. Council Is About To Decriminalize Pot. And Marion Barry Co-Wrote the Bill.

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Jan. 15 2014 7:42 PM

You Have the Right to Toke

Almost a quarter-century after Marion Barry was busted for crack, D.C.’s mayoral candidates are racing to decriminalize pot.

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That’s another case study in how the politics have changed. In 1998, before D.C. voters approved a medical marijuana initiative, the Republican-controlled Congress thwarted it with an amendment to a spending bill. No federal funds or local could be used to implement the initiative. It took 11 years for Congress to rewrite that language, barring only the federal funds, less of a problem in the city’s boom years. Washington was free to legalize dispensaries, which it did, under incredibly strict conditions that saw only 111 people making use of the service last year.

Medical marijuana isn’t much of a “social justice” issue. Decriminalization is. At the judiciary hearing on Wednesday, chairman Wells praised the new bill for possibly “ending the disenfranchisement of a significant section of our city.” The only quasi-disagreement came when Bowser (who’s black) asked the council to think about the next steps, about legalization.

“I want to know, if it’s not a crime to possess it, where then are people buying it?” she asked. “How are we going to deal with that? Certainly, we don’t want to go back to the days when we had open-air drug selling in our city. The logic of legalization makes more sense to me than decriminalization… regulating how people can procure this now-decriminalized marijuana has to be, I think, the second step.”

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That was it; that was the debate. The bill passed on a voice vote, on to the full city council, in a city that used to panic about drugs.

“Let the record show it was unanimous,” said Wells.