District of Columbia Mayor Vincent Gray has approved legislation that decriminalizes the possession of up to an ounce (28 grams) of marijuana in the US capital.
The law takes marijuana possession down from a misdemeanor to a civil violation with a $25 fine. Misdemeanors for possession carried up to six months in jail with a $1,000 fine.
Seventeen states have some form of decriminalization.
As with all District laws, the measure must still find ultimate approval through the US House of Representatives, as Washington, DC does not have final authority over the laws of its own city.
Republican Speaker John Boehner said the House will “look” at the bill. The Republican-led House has found fit to block District-passed legislation in recent years – the House has barred DC from using its own local funds to provide abortion services.
Congress has 60 days to review the decriminalization law.
Non-voting DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton said she doubts the House will take up issue.
“In a country where many states are permitting medical marijuana, or have decriminalized or legalized marijuana, I do not expect Members of Congress to interfere with DC’s local right to pass its own law on marijuana decriminalization," Norton said in a statement. "If Members try to interfere, however, I will stoutly defend DC’s right to pass such legislation, just as 17 states have already done.”
Supporters of the legislation point to an American Civil Liberties Union study which found that African-Americans in Washington, DC were eight times more likely than people of other races to be arrested for marijuana possession. The city’s demographics have shifted in recent years, as the black population in the District fell below an outright majority in 2012, the first time since the 1960s.
Mayor Gray signed the bill on Monday, one day before the Democratic primary election in which Gray is vying for a second term amid allegations he ran a “shadow campaign” to help himself win the seat from an incumbent in 2010.
Gray is being challenged by DC Councilmember Tommy Wells, lead sponsor of the decriminalization bill.