Residents of Washington, D.C., are battling local and federal officials for the right to not only possess, cultivate, and use cannabis, but to legally purchase it from licensed distributors, following the passage of a ballot initiative last year.
The ballot initiative in question, Ballot Initiative 71, which decriminalized cannabis in the District, took effect 11 months ago. Yet the measure’s full enactment has been stymied by elected officials, both in Congress and in the D.C. government.
In late 2014, Congress passed the spending bill with a rider attached stipulating that the District was to spend no additional funds to “enact any law, rule, or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce penalties” related to cannabis.
The administration of the District’s mayor, Muriel Bowser, fought to uphold what residents voted for — full legalization including the right to establish regulations for retail sales. However, after being threatened with jail time for willfully violating the law, should she continue to defend the enactment of Initiative 71, Bowser’s fight for the right to cannabis fizzled. Some say Bowser’s administration took the crackdown several steps further with the “Home Grow, Home Use” campaign, an interpretation at odds with that of many of the District’s residents and activists.
The administration also raised alarms about the unregulated sale of cannabis in the District, and pushed through the DC Council emergency legislation that banned all cannabis use outside of the home. The DC Council is said to be moving ahead with similar legislation that would make the ban permanent.
“District residents are fed up with congressional interference with local marijuana policy. D.C. lawmakers would be wise not to cede more control of local marijuana policy to Congress by approving the Mayor’s ban on marijuana consumption,”
said Kaitlyn Boecker, a policy associate at the Office of National Affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance.
Washington D.C. – Voters in the District of Colombia will likely be snuffed out if Congress has their way with proposed Federal budget cuts that would all but eliminate legalized marijuana. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said on Tuesday that Democrats won’t be able to fend off the Republicans’ course of action against legalized marijuana.
D.C. voters operate under a law called ‘home rule‘ which allows their voter-base to choose their own mayor, have a District Council, and dictate laws within the confines of Washington DC. The home rule is what allowed the overwhelming 70% of DC residents to vote for and pass Measure 71 which legalized marijuana in the District. However, Washington DC’s budget is still controlled by the Federal government which poses some real problems.
The exact language from the House Appropriations Committee “Prohibits both federal and local funds from being used to implement a referendum legalizing recreational marijuana use in the District.” This is also known as the “rider” that Republicans have vowed to attach to each spending bill.
Although Republicans have significant leverage with control of the budget, President Obama still has the final say with the ability to veto Congressional decisions. DC Council member David Grosso has been an avid supporter of marijuana legalization, and previously stated, “We have to move on this while President Obama is in office. I don’t know what happens after that.”
Mayor-elect Muriel Bowser issued a statement on Tuesday saying, “I call on all members of Congress to respect the will of D.C. voters and reject any attempts to violate our right to self-governance. In the meantime, the Council and I will move forward to implement the law in a thoughtful and responsible way.”
Aside from political leaders, it is DC residents who will likely express the most frustration with strong-arming Republicans. One of the reasons central to the passage of Measure 71 is the racial disparity in marijuana arrests. As recent as 2012, the arrest rate of blacks was disturbingly lopsided in DC with as many as 90% of marijuana arrests targeting blacks when the black population in DC hovers around 50%.
Aside from party politics you may be asking, “Why does the budget interfere with legalizing marijuana?” The answer is quite simple. In order for full legalization to work there needs to be a robust regulatory system in place. Dispensaries, growers, and manufacturers can’t be regulated without the funds for some type of overarching regulatory board.
Allocating licenses to cannabis related business would need management systems and personnel in place to get the ball rolling, and that takes money. States that have pushed forward with legalization have allocated their anticipated tax revenue to create such a regulatory system. Legal, or heavily decriminalized marijuana has a good chance at keeping it’s place in DC, but would not be taxed in regulated in a common-sense manner. This would likely result in some sort of quasi-legal existence of marijuana with an even more robust black market than exists today.
Although President Obama has indicated that the Feds shouldn’t interfere with local governance, it would be a real surprise to see him veto these fiscal appropriations decisions. While many see only doom and gloom for legalization in DC, there remains a glimmer of hope for DC residents and policy reform proponents. As the President heads in to his last 2 years in office, it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibilities to see him give the proverbial middle finger to the Republican majority.
Photo Credit: citron_smurf
Marijuana prohibition has been going strong in the United States since the mid 1930s. Two years ago, voters in Colorado and Washington paved the way for other states to put an end to the war on marijuana. Yesterday, voters in Washington D.C. joined the marijuana law reform movement.
Congratulations, District of Columbia! Fear of measly marijuana possession arrests is a thing of the past. A vast majority of voters supported Initiative 71, also known as the Legalization of Possession of Minimal Amounts of Marijuana for Personal Use Act of 2014, with 96,113 people casting a supporting vote. That many people made up 64.62%, well over the necessary majority.
What exactly does this act change for residents of Washington D.C.?
Initiative 71 does not allow for retail cannabis dispensaries. However, now, adults aged twenty-one years or older may possess up to two ounces of marijuana for personal use. Of-age adults may also cultivate up to six cannabis plants in a personal residence with three or fewer of those plants being mature. Transferring up to one ounce of marijuana, without payment, between adults is also legal. As is, possessing and selling paraphernalia for growing, using or processing cannabis.
As of now, retail cannabis dispensaries are not permitted, but that may change. Last week, Councilmember, David Grosso, presented the portions of the bill that regulate retail sales to two committees during a testimony hearing. With such a large percentage of the population supporting marijuana policy reform, it may not be long before dispensaries are permitted in the district.
photo credit: Chicago Tribune