Nation roundup for November 3


D.C. moving to decriminalize pot

WASHINGTON (AP) — It took nearly 15 years after voters approved medical marijuana for it to become available in the District of Columbia, but the next major change to pot laws in the nation’s capital is on the fast track.

The D.C. Council is poised to approve a bill that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of pot, and Democratic Mayor Vincent Gray announced last month that he supports it. He could sign the bill into law as early as January.

Some activists want the city to go further by legalizing, taxing and regulating marijuana as Colorado and Washington state do, and they’re considering a ballot initiative if the council doesn’t take that step.

It’s a big change from a year ago, when there was no medical marijuana in the capital and elected officials weren’t talking about relaxing recreational pot laws. Now, there are three tightly regulated marijuana dispensaries in the city, although there aren’t many patients yet.

City leaders have long been cautious about pot, in part because Congress has the final say on what’s legal in the district. But with 17 states having some form of decriminalization and the Justice Department taking a hands-off approach to legalization in Colorado and Washington state, city leaders think Congress won’t be interested in fighting that battle.

“What the states do would not matter if there were serious interest in the subject” on Capitol Hill, said Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat who represents the district in Congress. “I don’t think there’s a serious interest in the subject.”

The new sense of urgency has been fueled in part by two studies released this year that found large racial disparities in marijuana arrests in the city. Blacks were eight times more likely to be arrested than whites in the district in 2010, the American Civil Liberties Union found, and 91 percent of those arrested that year were black. About half of the city’s 632,000 residents are African-American.

S.F. transit unions approve contract

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — A second Bay Area Rapid Transit labor union has ratified the contract agreement that brought to an end a bitter labor dispute that led to two San Francisco area transportation strikes, officials said Saturday.

BART said the company had reached agreement with the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, whose members voted to approve the four-year deal.

ATU president Antonette Bryant said members ratified the contract by a “significant margin” but would not provide specific numbers.

The other, Service Employees International Union Local 1021, announced late Friday that its members had approved the contract, with 88-percent voting for it.

“The Bay Area and our riders will benefit from these contracts because BART will be able to move forward with the replacement of our aging fleet of train cars and the needed upgrades to meet demand,” BART general manager Grace Crunican, said in a statement.

The agreement includes a 15 percent raise and safer working conditions.

The deal also requires BART workers to pay into their pensions for the first time and increases their monthly health care contributions from about $92 to $129. The unions represent train operators, station agents, custodians and maintenance and clerical workers.

Both unions went on strike for nearly five days in July and after a state-mandated cooling off-period, went back to the picket lines for another four days last month angering thousands of commuters.

During the second strike, two BART workers were killed by a train operated by an employee under training in Walnut Creek on Oct. 19. Company and union officials returned to the bargaining table and reached a deal days later.

BART’s board of directors still needs to vote on the contract at its next meeting, which the agency said would happen “soon.”

 

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