The nation's capital just got a step closer to loosening its marijuana laws.
Under the current law, someone caught with a joint in Washington, D.C., can be arrested and jailed for six months. But on Tuesday, the District council voted overwhelmingly for a bill that would eliminate criminal penalties for possessing a small amount of the drug.
If Mayor Vincent Gray and Congress both support the bill, as expected, individuals stopped with an ounce or less of marijuana would face a $25 fine at most. People caught smoking in public would still be subject to arrest.
For years, pot advocates have criticized the District's marijuana restrictions for disproportionately targeting its black community, despite evidence (including government surveys) showing that blacks are no more likely than whites to use the drug. According to the Washington Lawyers' Committee, arrest statistics from 2009 through 2011 revealed that 9 out of 10 people arrested for drugs in Washington were black, though blacks make up slightly more than half of the city's population.