News

Washington DC latest to join steam-rolling ganja bandwagon

BY DESMOND ALLEN Executive editor — special assignment allend@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, March 06, 2014    

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THE ganja bandwagon continued to steam ahead, with Washington, DC, the United States capital, being the latest to significantly ease marijuana laws, US news outlets have been reporting.

By a margin of 10 to one, members of the District of Columbia Council voted Tuesday for legislation to lessen penalties for public and private consumption of marijuana and decriminalise the possession of small quantities of the weed, according to CNN.

The approved legislation moves the possession of an ounce or less of marijuana from a criminal offence — which came with six months in jail or a US$1,000 fine — to a civil offence that comes with a fine of US$25. It lowers the penalty for smoking marijuana in public from a US$1,000 fine or six months in jail to a US$500 fine or 60 days in jail.

The Bill now goes for signature by DC Mayor Vincent Gray, who has previously expressed his support for loosening marijuana laws and decriminalising the weed.

Jamaican advocates of ganja decriminalisation — led by Paul Burke, Delano Seiveright and Paul Chang — immediately greeted the DC news as a further sign that Jamaica's decision to decriminalise ganja, perhaps as early as June this year, was on the right track.

US advocates of marijuana decriminalisation hailed the Bill, saying it was necessary because the laws were more often than not used to arrest African-Americans in the US capital. They cited a 2013 study by the Washington Lawyers' Committee that found "nearly nine out of 10 arrests for possession of marijuana involved African-Americans", although they account for less than 90 per cent of marijuana consumption in DC.

The Drug Policy Alliance said the 'Marijuana Possession Decriminalisation Amendment Act of 2014' was a comprehensive piece of legislation that would eliminate the threat of arrest for possessing marijuana and "ensure that people are no longer saddled with lifelong convictions that make it difficult to obtain employment, housing, public assistance and other basic needs".

DC Council members were said to be considering two further marijuana policy reform measures that would automatically seal marijuana-related arrest and conviction records that hinder the ability for thousands of district residents to secure employment, housing, public assistance, and other basic needs. The second measure would implement a system of taxation and regulation of adult sales of marijuana similar to policies in place in Colorado and Washington State, the first two to legalise ganja.

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