Just blocks from the U.S. Capitol, the first legal marijuana sales are now underway, with a total of nine patients in D.C. authorized to purchase the drug for medicinal purposes.
Seven of those individuals are authorized to buy two ounces every month.
The district's first dispensary, Capital City Care, opens some 15 years after 70 percent of the voters here authorized a measure allowing the drug to be provided for patients with a prescription.
Our D.C. marijuana defense lawyers understand that the opening comes on the heels of a report finding that D.C. leads the nation in terms of arrests for marijuana possession per capita.
In 2010, D.C. police made 846 marijuana possession arrests per 100,000 residents. The national rate is 256 per 100,000 - making a marijuana possession arrest 3.3 times more likely here in D.C. than in the country as a whole.
The information was revealed in a report by the American Civil Liberties Union, whose primary focus was to highlight racial disparities with regard to marijuana arrests. Across the country, blacks were nearly 4 times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than their white counterparts, despite the fact that usage rates are about the same.
However, in D.C., that disparity is much more pronounced in D.C., where blacks are 8.05 times more likely to be arrested than whites for possession of marijuana. This skew is viewed as a significant contributing factor to widespread poverty among minority communities, as a marijuana arrest can affect a person's ability to secure a good job or federal financial aid for higher education.
Maryland has the fourth-highest rate in the country for marijuana possession arrests, with 409 per 100,000 residents. It follows D.C., New York and Nebraska.
D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier insists that marijuana arrests are not a priority. Rather, she says, the emphasis on policing is on violent crimes.
In the wake of all this information, two Democratic D.C. councilmen - Tommy Wells and Marion Berry - have introduced a bill, which was partially drafted by the Marijuana Policy Project, that would decriminalize minor marijuana arrests in the District.
In effect, it would make marijuana possession a non-criminal offense that would be similar to a $100 parking ticket. It would also decriminalize possession of marijuana paraphernalia, assuming you have less than one ounce of marijuana on you at the time of the arrest and you are over 18. However, if you are under the age of 18, possession of marijuana paraphernalia would still be met with a $100 fine.
Juveniles would also have to undergo a four-hour group treatment therapy session within one year of their arrest.
As Wells put it, it's not an approval of recreational marijuana use as much as it is a shift in approach. An administrative penalty, he said, could ultimately be more effective and less damaging than continuing to slap people with criminal sanctions and permanent criminal records.
There is good reason to believe the measure could pass. A survey conducted earlier this year by the Public Policy Polling Group found that three-fourths of D.C. voters favor decriminalization of less than one ounce of marijuana.
Simple possession of the drug is currently considered a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine, per D.C. Code 48-904.01. A subsequent offense could be punished by double that.