D.C. Council Endorses Pot Decriminalization as Legalization Fight Looms

'It’s akin to a stone in the middle of a stream,' a pro-pot campaigner says about a fine for possessing marijuana.

A police officer waits with a K-9 dog outside the Capitol South Metro station during rush hour on April 16, 2013, in Washington, D.C.

A police officer waits with a K-9 dog outside the Capitol South Metro station during rush hour on April 16, 2013, in Washington, D.C. 

By + More

The D.C. Board of Elections is meeting Feb. 25 to consider whether the D.C. Cannabis Campaign’s proposed ballot language is acceptable, Eidinger says, and he’s working with the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance to dissolve and then re-establish the pro-pot campaign committee per the campaign finance office’s instructions.

Ballot language cannot appropriate city funds, and cannabis reformers are confident their “bare-bones” proposal does not.

[ALSO: Live Free and High: New Hampshire House Votes to Legalize Pot]

The D.C. Cannabis Campaign hopes to clear the two hurdles – ballot language approval and the campaign committee reformation – by the second week of March to allow a full 180 days for collecting the required signatures to score ballot access.

The proposed ballot initiative would legalize possession of 2 ounces and six plants by adults over 21.

"A clear majority of district voters supports legalizing and regulating marijuana, and that's exactly what we're likely to approve on the ballot this November unless the council adopts more comprehensive legislation before then," says Marijuana Majority Chairman Tom Angell, a district resident.

Grosso introduced a legalization bill to the D.C. Council with similar specifications in September.

"There's going to be an increase in demand with decriminalization, but there isn't going to be anywhere safe for people to go purchase marijuana," Grosso told U.S. News after unveiling his bill. "They're still going to be on the street corners, we're still going to have problems with violence on the street, with people getting arrested for nonviolent offenses."

[READ: Pot Opponents Predict 'Hogwild' Colorado Trainwreck]

D.C. police arrested 5,115 people for marijuana possession in 2010, according to data reported in June by the American Civil Liberties Union. Nearly 91 percent of the arrestees were black, according to the ACLU.

Currently, Colorado and Washington state allow recreational marijuana use for adults over age 21. Colorado opened recreational marijuana stores Jan. 1 and during the first month of sales companies collected more than $1.24 million in state taxes, NBC News reported Monday. State-licensed stores will open in Washington later this year.

The district is part of a broad nationwide trend toward liberalizing marijuana laws. The New Hampshire House of Representatives voted Jan. 15 to legalize and regulate marijuana, but the bill is unlikely to become law this year. Alaska residents likely will vote on legalization Aug. 19, possibly followed by residents of Arizona, California and Oregon in November. In Florida, voters in November will consider joining the district and 20 states that allow medical marijuana. Seventeen states have removed or reduced penalties for nonmedical marijuana possession.

More News: