The bill is expected to pass the first of two votes required for
legislation in the district, since eight of the council's 13 members
have sponsored the measure, and Democratic Mayor Vincent Gray has
said he favors it.
The decriminalization law could face scrutiny from Congress, which
has constitutional oversight over the capital.
Morgan Fox, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, a U.S.
advocacy group, however, said there has been no sign the House of
Representatives' Oversight Committee would oppose the measure. A
committee spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.
Marijuana is illegal under federal law, but 20 U.S. states and the
District of Columbia allow medical marijuana use. Colorado and
Washington state have legalized recreational use.
If the measure is approved, the U.S. capital would join 15 states
and a handful of cities that have removed the threat of arrest for
possession of small amounts of marijuana.
Supporters have portrayed decriminalization in Washington as a way
to cut law enforcement costs and increase fairness. A study by the
American Civil Liberties Union has shown that eight times more black
people are arrested for pot possession in the nation's capital than
people of other races.
The proposal would eliminate criminal penalties for marijuana
possession. The proposed $25 fine for having less than an ounce of
pot is smaller than most city parking tickets. People smoking in
public would be fined $100, and minors would have a letter sent to
[to top of second column]
Possession of marijuana in Washington is now a misdemeanor carrying
up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine, except for the handful
of patients who use medical marijuana. The starting price for
medical marijuana in the District is about $300 an ounce.
A Washington Post poll last month showed that 63 percent of city
residents favored legalizing marijuana, up from almost half in 2010.
Activists in the heavily Democratic city are seeking to put an
initiative on the November ballot that would legalize possession of
up to two ounces (56 grams) of marijuana and three mature pot plants
for personal use.
President Barack Obama said in a New Yorker magazine interview last
month that smoking marijuana was a "bad habit," but thought
penalties fell disproportionately on minorities. States legalizing
pot should go ahead with their plans, he said.
(Reporting by Ian Simpson; editing by Cynthia Johnston and James Dalgleish)
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