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Washington D.C.'s new laws decriminalizing small amount of marijuana went into effect Thursday. Here's how they work.
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It's official: Washington D.C. has decriminalized possessing small amounts of marijuana. But don't break out the bong just yet, the new law probably doesn't do everything you think it does. Possessing or trading an ounce of pot in D.C. used to be punishable by jail time. Now, it's just a $25 ticket. That goes for drug paraphernalia as well — though, you still don't get to keep the bud or the accessories. The Washington City Paper is even offering to pay the $25 fine for the first five people who send in their stories about getting busted under the new law. But D.C. police are making it crystal clear that marijuana is still illegal — you can't buy or sell it, consume it in a public place, or operate a vehicle or boat while under the influence. And if you have over an ounce of pot on you, you're out of luck. The original legislation wasn't so much about legalizing pot as curbing the city's racially biased arrest record. A 2013 ACLU report found black D.C. residents were eight times more likely than white residents to be busted for possessing pot, despite similar usage rates between the two groups. But as Vox reports, decriminalizing pot doesn't always solve the problem, and results of looser pot laws can have different effects from state to state. One expert told the outlet, "If you think it's actually racism, then what you'd expect is the cops will figure out some other reason to arrest those black kids. ... You have to ask when you do this, how will law enforcement react?" And if House Republicans have their way, the decriminalization law might not be around for long. GOP representatives attached a caveat to the latest D.C. funding bill preventing the city from enforcing the new regulations with city funds. That funding bill passed the House last month with an additional GOP provision gutting D.C.'s gun laws. The resulting bill is currently awaiting Senate approval, but President Obama's office says he's likely to veto the bill if it gets that far. On the flip side of things, D.C. residents might get a chance to vote on full marijuana legalization this November, thanks to a ballot initiative submitted earlier this month by the D.C. Cannabis Campaign.