The legalization of marijuana has been a subject of heated debate in America for decades. Today, 10 states allow recreational marijuana use to some extent, along with 33 states that have passed laws permitting medicinal marijuana. While many states in the West Coast has led the way for marijuana decriminalization, New England has also made some groundbreaking steps. Most recently, the mayor of DC, Muriel Bowser, has proposed a bill that would legalize the sale of recreational marijuana.
Effective February 26th, 2015, the District of Columbia made it legal to possess and grow small amounts of marijuana if you are a citizen over the age of 21. This came after voters approved Initiative 71: the Legalization of Possession of Minimal Amounts of Marijuana for Personal Use. Technically, this initiative legalized recreational marijuana in DC. However, the sale of recreational cannabis remained against the law – making it impossible for citizens to lawfully purchase marijuana for recreational use.
According to Initiative 71, it is currently legal to possess no more than two ounces of marijuana for personal use in DC, if 21 or older. It is also legal to partake in marijuana on private property, as well as to transfer one ounce or less to someone else, as long as it is not in exchange for money, goods, or services. Cultivating marijuana plants in a private residence is also legal, as long as the individual has no more than three mature plants and six plants total.
Despite the apparent legalization of recreational marijuana in DC, residents still cannot sell marijuana, possess more than two ounces, or use marijuana in public spaces. It is also illegal to operate a vehicle of any kind under the influence of marijuana. Since Initiative 71 did not legalize marijuana sales, citizens currently have nowhere to lawfully purchase marijuana for consumption or recreational use. The mayor’s new bill would change that for DC residents.
On April 30th, 2019, Mayor Muriel Bowser introduced a legislative proposal that would legalize the sale of marijuana in Washington, DC. She took the matter to City Council to consider a bill that would permit the operation of marijuana dispensaries. In a Twitter post prior to her announcement, Bowser expressed lawmakers’ desires to regulate and tax the sale of recreational marijuana, as well as to train and hire DC residents to run licensed retail dispensaries. Bowser seeks to break through the federal red tape that has prevented similar laws from passing in DC for the past five years.
The mayor’s proposed bill, called the Safe Cannabis Sales Act of 2019, would give the task of overseeing and licensing marijuana retail dispensaries to the Alcohol Beverage Regulation Administration in DC. It would take the new name, Alcohol Beverage and Cannabis Administration. According to the bill, anyone over the age of 21 would be able to walk into a licensed dispensary and purchase marijuana for personal or recreation use, in an amount up to the limits of current laws in DC.
Furthermore, the bill proposes allowing DC’s current medical marijuana cultivation centers (there are eight throughout the city) to sell to the recreational markets. The dispensaries would need to make sure at least 60% of their employees are local DC hires. The mayor proposes a 17% tax on the sale of all cannabis products, with all tax revenues going toward funding housing programs in DC after the first three months. The bill would permit home deliveries. It would simultaneously eradicate the current gifting economy that has formed because of the inability to purchase marijuana from a licensed seller.
One of the highlights of the bill for residents in DC with criminal records relating to marijuana charges is that the law would automatically seal the records of anyone with marijuana-related misdemeanor charges. It would also permit them to find jobs within the marijuana industry. David Grosso, a Councilmember, wants to do even more for people with felony marijuana convictions in DC. The bill is currently moving through legislative processes at the Council.