More big city mayors are getting in on the cannabis law reform discussion. Yesterday, we highlighted a story about New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg embracing and supporting the Governor’s bid to decriminalize marijuana further in New York State by making less that 25 grams of marijuana in public view an infraction, and not a criminal misdemeanor.
If the Governor’s legislation passes, instead of a criminal record those caught with less than 25 grams marijuana in New York will only have to pay a $100 fine for a violation, similar to a traffic ticket.
Today, we have another big East coast city mayor speaking out about marijuana in his city. Washington DC Mayor Vincent Gray has let officials know in his city he is ready for them to concentrate on implementing the medical marijuana program in DC, but he also wants DC officials to keep their options open when it comes to dealing with recreational use of marijuana.
As it is now, Washington DC has some of the toughest penalties for marijuana use in the East. If you are caught with any amount of marijuana in your possession, you can face up to six months in prison and a $1000 fine. For comparison, right across from the city, in Virginia, those penalties drop to you needing to be caught with more than a half an ounce before you can be eligible for a 30 day jail sentence and a $500 fine.
Mayor Gray was in a press conference this morning when the question came up from a reporter asking about the progress of Washington DC’s medical marijuana program. Initiative 59 was voted for in 1998 by an overwhelming majority of residents, but wasn’t adopted by the City Council in 2010. Now, two years later, it is still in the process of getting off the ground.
After Gray made his comments about recreational use in the city, he admitted that the matter has never come up for serious discussion within the administration. Phil Mendelson, a DC City Council member and the chairman of the Public Safety and Judiciary Committee said that the district couldn’t consider weakening the penalties for marijuana possession because it would conflict with federal laws. He explained that in DC, the US Attorney is going to expect the same drug policies as the federal government. He said any bill that goes through the District of Columbia also has the added input of the US Attorney who is a player in the legislative process in the City.
When questioned further about the DC Council setting local law in the District, Mendelson said that the US Attorney Ronald C Mahen currently has enough clout within the city council to sway the outcome of the issue. He added that he doesn’t necessarily agree with the current penalties for marijuana crimes, but said that the DC council has not been able to get medical marijuana to the citizens without engaging the US Attorney in the process. We are still waiting for the first patient to get a card, and the first medical marijuana to be dispensed for the hundreds of deserving patients who have waited long enough.