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Decriminalization is the Right Step Forward

ELIAS BENDA, OPINIONS EDITOR On July 17, marijuana was decriminalized (NOT legalized), in Washington, D.C. It is no longer a criminal offense, even if you are under the age of 18, to possess an ounce or less of pot or to smoke it in the privacy of your own home. (Smoking in public is still an arrestable offense.) The new punishment consists of a $25 dollar fine — less than the $300 fine for underage possession of alcohol, according to Nolo, Law for All — and a call or letter to your parents/guardians.

What does this mean for the youth of D.C.?

It means that young students and citizens do not need to worry about obtaining a criminal record or accruing jail time for what many see as a small, victimless crime. This is important for the success of DC students. A criminal record for something as trivial as marijuana possession or use can jeopardize a student’s future when it comes to higher education or employment.

This matters in a city that has the highest per capita marijuana arrests in the country, and an unnecessary concentration of tax dollars and police hours focused on targeting those using a drug that is recreationally legal in two states and already used for medical purposes in the District.

One of the biggest reasons the D.C. council proposed and passed this law is because of a racially skewed history of marijuana arrests. Of those arrested for marijuana possession in 2007, 91% were black. For a crime that is committed in relatively equal numbers for each race, this statistic is shocking. It shows a flaw in the law, in policing, and in a racially skewed societal mindset, most recently exemplified by the murder of Michael Brown and the subsequent protests in Ferguson, Missouri.

D.C. officials did the right thing in decriminalization, because they have hit two birds with one stone. They eliminated the criminal penalty for a relatively harmless drug and simultaneously combated one aspect of racial disparity in the criminal justice system.

For students at Wilson, it’s important to be clear on one point: “It’s still illegal to bring it [weed] into a school environment,” Principal Pete Cahall said. Regardless, he acknowledged that in countering the racist trend it is ultimately a positive step forward.


Graphic by Sarah Torresen and Jane Martin


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