As Congress weighs a Washington, D.C. law that decriminalizes possession of a small amount of marijuana, the office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia has released a statement explaining its policy on the issue.

According to the statement, under the D.C. bill signed by Mayor Vincent Gray in March. smoking marijuana in public would remain a criminal offense. Anyone who smokes marijuana on federal property could still be prosecuted under the D.C. law.

“Individuals arrested for merely possessing, but not using, less than one ounce of marijuana on federal property would be presented to our office for potential prosecution under federal law,” said William Miller, public information officer for the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia. “We will assess each case on an individualized basis, weighing all available information and evidence, consistent with Justice Department enforcement priorities and the need to use our limited investigative and prosecutorial resources to address the most significant threats to public safety. We rely heavily on diversion programs in our local marijuana prosecutions, and would likely do the same with respect to federal offenses.”

U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen himself has not yet made a statement on the issue.

In March, Mayor Vincent Gray signed a bill which makes the possession of less than one ounce of marijuana a civil offense subject to a $25 fine. Smoking marijuana would still be a crime, but the maximum punishment would be reduced from a $1,000 fine and six months in jail to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine. But Congress must review the law before it can take effect.

The bill was introduced by Councilmembers Tommy Wells and Marion Barry and was passed in response to two studies of law enforcement records in the District. The studies found that nine out of 10 arrests for simple drug possession were of African Americans.

A 2010 American Civil Liberties Union report found police in D.C. made 836 arrests per 100,000 residents for possession of marijuana. Nationally, 256 people out of every 100,000 were arrested for possession.

Maria Adebola

Special to the AFRO