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Washington, D.C., city council passes pot decriminalization vote

By Lacey Johnson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A measure decriminalizing marijuana in the U.S. capital got final approval from Washington's city council on Tuesday, a move that would make smoking pot a violation comparable to a parking ticket.

The bill, which passed the second of two votes with the support of 10 of the 13 city councilors, will now go to the desk of Democratic Mayor Vincent Gray, who supports the measure.

"It will have a profound impact on the people of the District of Columbia to decriminalize this marijuana," said Councilman David Grosso, adding that he looks forward to the "next step" of taxing and regulating the sale of marijuana.

"I think that should be done expeditiously here in this body and, hopefully, with the support of our mayor."

While marijuana is still illegal under federal law, 15 U.S. states and a handful of cities have removed the threat of arrest for possession of small amounts of the drug. Colorado and Washington state have gone farther and legalized marijuana outright, a step that Rhode Island is also considering.

Supporters of the District's bill have portrayed decriminalization as a way to cut law enforcement costs and increase fairness.

The new legislation "moves us in the right direction," said the bill's sponsor, Tommy Wells, noting that there are more than 5,000 arrests per year for marijuana possession in Washington.

An American Civil Liberties Union study has shown that eight times more black people are arrested for pot possession in the district than people of other races.

The bill makes possession of less than an ounce (28 grams) of pot a civil violation. The penalty is a $25 fine, lower than most city parking tickets.

Possession in Washington is now a misdemeanor carrying up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine, except for the handful of patients who use medical marijuana.

(Editing by Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis)

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