Washington ‘tokes’ high road to pot

WASHINGTON (TIP): A city where the country’s president was once roasted for saying he smoked but
“didn’t inhale” has legalized pot, marking a new high in America’s bid to decriminalize marijuana possession and use.

Starting on february 26, it will not be illegal to grow, possess and use small amounts pot in Washington DC, in keeping the majority sentiments in the nation’s capital where 70% of voters approved Initiative 71 to legalize marijuana last November.

There are still some restrictions, including a ban on smoking in public and on pot shops. But from all accounts, the capital’s relaxation is expected spur rest of the country to ease up on the stigma associated with the plant, dealing with which has led to criminal prosecution and incarceration of tens of thousands of people across the country. A study by the American Civil Liberties Union showed a racially lopsided pattern of arrests for marijuana-related offences in Washington DC. Although whites and blacks use the drug in equal proportions, about nine out of 10 arrests were reported to be of African Americans — a larger percentage than in any other major US city, even accounting for the capital’s approximately 50:50 black: white population.

According to other studies, a marijuana-related arrest occurs once every 42 second in the US. Nearly half of the 1.5 million drug arrests in the US in 2011 related to pot, with marijuana inmates alone costing prisons $1 billion per year. All this apparently led some Washington DC residents, canvassed by its mayor and other city representatives, to vote down police and judicial crackdown on pot.

The victory didn’t come without a fight. Some federal lawmakers who control the city’s purse strings threatened to have the mayor arrested for backing the people’s sentiments, saying she has encouraged a “knowing and willful violation of the federal law.” The federal government controls nearly 25% of land in Washington DC. But under the new rules that will government rest of the district, residents and visitors will be able to possess as much as two ounces of marijuana. They will also be able to cultivate up to six plants in their homes.

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