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Legalized Pot In D.C. A Symbolic Victory For Marijuana Advocates

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Marijuana is now legal in Washington, D.C. The nation's capital is now the fourth jurisdiction in the country to drop most penalties on pot. The legalization in D.C. is limited compared to other areas, but as Martin Austermuhle of member station WAMU reports, many say the new law could still be a game changer.

MARTIN AUSTERMUHLE, BYLINE: Despite eleventh-hour maneuvers and threats of jail time against D.C.'s mayor from Republican leaders in Congress, the nation's capital became the first place on the East Coast to legalize the recreational use of pot. But in a coffee shop in the northwest part of the city, resident Mary Lauran Hall doesn't see the law as a dramatic leap forward.

MARY LAURAN HALL: It's not at all like Colorado where we have stores or legal sale in the public view. Nothing is different today than it was yesterday.

AUSTERMUHLE: That's because D.C.'s voter-approved marijuana legalization has more restrictions than what Colorado and Washington state have adopted. D.C. residents 21 and older are now allowed to possess, grow, and use pot, but they're limited to the privacy of their homes. Sales still remain illegal, but civil liberties advocates like the ACLU's Seema Sadanandan see a much bigger benefit to D.C.'s legalization law - the end of a war on drugs that she says disproportionately targets minorities.

SEEMA SADANANDAN: We are the first place on the East Coast. We are the first jurisdiction to really say that ending the war on drugs is about ending this campaign of disenfranchisement against black communities.

AUSTERMUHLE: D.C. Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie says that legalization is less about marijuana and more about the city's complicated relationship with Congress.

KENYAN MCDUFFIE: It's about our democracy. Unlike the 50 states and citizens in those states, the District of Columbia remains under the very same colonial rule that sparked a movement in our country's independence.

AUSTERMUHLE: While possession, use and cultivation of pot are now legal in D.C., Congress blocked a further measure that would allow for the sale of marijuana in regulated stores. For NPR News, I'm Martin Austermuhle in Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Martin Austermuhle is a reporter in WAMU’s newsroom. He covers politics, development, education, social issues, and crime, among other things. Austermuhle joined the WAMU staff in April 2013 as a web producer and reporter. Prior to that, he served as editor-in-chief for DCist.com. He has written for the Washington City Paper, Washington Diplomat and other publications.

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