The District of Columbia will take a step closer toward decriminalizing marijuana on Wednesday with a move that will make smoking a joint in the U.S. capital a violation comparable to a parking ticket.
With Washington arresting people for pot possession at a higher rate than any state, a city council panel is set to mark up a bill that would reduce penalties for possessing less than an ounce (28 grams) of marijuana to a fine as little as $25.
If the bill is passed, Washington would join 15 U.S. states and a handful of cities, including Detroit, that have decriminalized marijuana use, making possession a civil rather than a criminal offense.
Decriminalization would hold down police and legal costs and reduce "undeniable racial disparities" that see blacks far more likely than whites to be arrested for pot, said Tommy Wells, chairman of the Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety, which will make changes to the bill.
"We have to take action to decriminalize possession of an ounce or less of marijuana and reform our criminal justice system," Wells said in a statement.