D.C. Criminal Defense Attorney Legal Blog

Friday, September 12, 2014

Washington DC Marijuana Decriminalization Law Overview

Marijuana reform has come to the District of Columbia; however, it is already a convoluted mess. As the law stands now, marijuana is not legal per se, but only decriminalized, other jurisdictions have experienced this same roadblock. What this means is that DC police can no longer arrest you for possessing under an ounce of marijuana. All they can do now is write you a ticket to the tune of $25.

As a DC Marijuana defense attorney, Thomas Lester knows that changes in the law can be confusing for citizens and police officers alike, particularly in the District.

Where this becomes tricky is that Washington DC is also a federal district with large amounts of federal property like the grounds of the U.S. Capital. If you were to be caught with an ounce or less of marijuana on the street next to the capital by DC police, you would simply just have to pay a $25 fine for breaking the law. However, if you were to take one step over on the grounds of the Capitol with any quantity of marijuana, and then caught by the Capital Police (who are federal law enforcement officials), you could be arrested and convicted of a felony.

This is why the decriminalization law is very murky for a place like the District of Columbia that has a significant overlap of city and federal law enforcement agencies that most territories and states in the country don’t have. However, the reason provided by city officials of DC for passing this law was to help alleviate the racial disparity in marijuana arrests, along with keeping non-violent users of marijuana out of jails to cut down costs that it takes to house and incarcerate those individuals.

However, the DC marijuana decriminalization law still allows for you to be convicted of a felony should you possess over an ounce of marijuana, or smoke marijuana in public. This effectively keeps the criminalization of marijuana in place for dealers and distributors, and only provides criminal relief to marijuana consumers on their private property.

There are also a couple additions to the law that can protect you as an individual should you be approached by a District of Columbia officer trying to find you in possession of marijuana. An officer, who smells marijuana on you, now cannot force you to show your identification or search you. Prior to this law being passed, if you smelled like marijuana, the officer could see this as probable cause to search you and make you show your identification.

While these additional protections are in place for citizens, the DC Marijuana laws do almost nothing to affect DUI’s. However, citizens can take solace in the fact that their car cannot be searched by a police officer looking for contraband simply because it smells like marijuana. However, this does not stop you from being convicted of a felony for driving under the influence should an officer catch you operating a vehicle while impaired.

With the complexities and confusion of this new law, if you or a family member has been arrested for marijuana possession or operating a vehicle while impaired in the District of Columbia, it is important you contact an attorney to understand what your rights and defenses are under the law. This is advised because an attorney will be able to help protect your rights as you go through the legal system, and can guide you on the best course of action to take.

If you, a family member, or friend have been charged with a Marijuana related crime in the District of Columbia Contact our office today for a free consultation by calling 202-861-0085.

Additional Resources:

D.C. Council votes to eliminate jail time for marijuana possession, Washington Post, March 5, 2014, By Aaron C. Davis.

Other Blogs:

D.C. DUI law Overview – Penalties & Mandatory Minimums, Legal Blog Post, Law Office of Thomas Lester.

The Law Office of Thomas E. Lester serves clients throughout Washington D.C. and Virginia.

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| Phone: 202-861-0085 | 855-270-53-63

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