Pot Decriminalized: D.C. Reduces Marijuana Penalty; May Face Snags

The U.S. is in the beginnings of a pattern in which we increasingly see pot decriminalized. Washington D.C. is the latest to be affected, with a new law going into effect just this week that will reduce the penalty for being caught with marijuana to a small (relatively speaking) fine.

In fact, DCist reveals that the fine, $25, is less than one receives if caught littering! Of course, there are limits to this amnesty.

For one thing, it applies only to adults in possession of less than an ounce of pot. Also, smoking and selling are not being decriminalized here. If you're smoking pot in public, or selling pot, expect to be charged. Also, don't expect to see driving under the influence decriminalized. Finally, do be aware that while $25 is a relatively small fine, they're also going to seize the weed, so this isn't free license to flash it around -- merely a small step in the reform of our response to one nonviolent offense.

However, there's more for pot enthusiasts to be concerned about with this law change than its omissions and exceptions: some are concerned that the amnesty may not be enforceable.

What happens when a law is passed, but a second law is passed forbidding the use of public funds to carry out the law? The law may, to a great extent, be voided. That's what's happening in this case.

On Wednesday, Time reports, House Republicans and six Democrats passed a provision stating that neither federal nor local funds can be used to enforce the policy.

The Senate isn't expected to pass the provision, so it may go no further. However, at this point, it's a cause for concern, and has parties on both sides of the debate writing to their representatives to call for appropriate action.

Before being decriminalized, possession of marijuana could land a person in prison for up to 6 months and carry fines of up to $1,000, so there's a lot at stake for those who partake if the Senate follows the House's example and passes this rider.

Representative Andy Harris, of Maryland, who added the provisions, cheered the move on Wednesday after the House voted to accept them.

If the Senate does not accept the provisions, with pot decriminalized, D.C. could be one step closer to legalization.

[Photo: DEA]