WASHINGTON -- At least for the time being, it's no longer a criminal offense to carry a joint in your pocket in most of the nation's capital.
The District of Columbia's law decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana takes effect Thursday.
The law replaces criminal penalties for possession of one ounce of pot with a $25 civil fine. D.C. police are seeking to remind residents that smoking in public, possession of more than one ounce or selling marijuana remain criminal offenses.
The police said in a statement Wednesday, "One popular misconception we have often heard in the community is that the District has legalized the possession or use of marijuana. This is absolutely not true! In order to proactively inform the community of the new law, the Department is printing ... business card-sized information handouts for MPD officers to distribute to community members."
Council member Tommy Wells, Ward 6, who introduced the bill, says of the decriminalization, "First, it means that our police will be able to focus on other things. It means for residents that it will become a [$25] fine. ...
"It will be the same as a misdemeanor for having an open container of beer," he says.
D.C. police have developed and implemented training for the force in preparation of the law taking effect.
Prosecutors and the D.C. Housing Authority have also seen the training guide.
According to a police statement, no officer can make or approve an arrest for marijuana possession without having taken the training.
It's still illegal to have pot on federal property, and the new law doesn't apply to U.S. Park Police.
It's not clear how long the law will last. The House has approved a spending bill with an amendment that would bar the District from implementing the law.
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