NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Washington DC has taken another step towards legalizing marijuana. On Tuesday the District of Columbia approved a bill 10-1 to decriminalize small possessions of pot. Individuals aged 18 and older will only be fined $25 for possession of up to one ounce of marijuana or basically the same as a parking ticket.
DC had the nation's highest rate arrest rate in the country for pot possession, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, and the burden was felt mostly by the African American population. Ninety-one percent of those arrested were black people and they were eight times more likely to be arrested than whites, even though pot usage is considered to be equal. DC expects to save millions as a result of the change for court costs. The ACLU estimated that DC spent $26.5 million enforcing the possession law.
The bill also removes penalties for marijuana accessories or paraphernalia and individuals can't be searched for marijuana suspicion. However, it is still a crime to smoke: publicly punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a fine of $500. Mayor Vincent C. Gray has said he supports the bill and it is expected to be signed quickly. It then goes to Congressional review for 60 days because it affects criminal sentencing.
Washington DC does allow for medicinal marijuana, but the program is fairly restrictive. It is only available for patients with cancer/ HIV/AIDS, glaucoma and multiple sclerosis. Currently, there are three dispensaries operating in the District.
"This is a big step forward for our nation's capital, as well as our nation as a whole," said Dan Riffle, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, which supported the bill. "Clearly, marijuana prohibition's days are numbered in the United States."
--Written by Debra Borchardt in New York.