Press Release  | 12/09/2014

UPDATE: Congress Still Negotiating D.C. Marijuana Legalization

Appears Congress May Allow D.C. Legalization Law to Stand, But Block D.C. Council From Taxing and Regulating Marijuana

Opportunity to Restore Communities Most Harmed By War on Drugs in Jeopardy

In a dramatic turn of events, media reports suggest that Congress is still negotiating whether to overturn D.C.’s historic marijuana legalization initiative. Currently, sources are reporting that Congress is considering allowing Initiative 71, approved by 70% of District residents, to stand while preventing future action on the District of Columbia’s ability to tax and regulate marijuana. These reports stand in sharp contrast to a previously reported deal that would have stopped the ballot measure from taking effect.

“It’s outrageous that Congress would even consider overriding the 70% of D.C. voters who supported November’s marijuana legalization initiative,” said Michael Collins, Policy Manager for the Drug Policy Alliance. “While we are encouraged by reports that D.C.’s legalization law may survive, Democratic leadership can do much more. We are deeply troubled by reports that the final language will prevent the District from taxing and regulating marijuana.”

D.C.’s marijuana legalization effort, Initiative 71, was the first marijuana legalization initiative in the country run squarely under the auspices of racial justice and was seen as the first step at taking marijuana out of the illicit market. A broad base of community support from multiple civil rights organizations, faith leaders and community advocacy groups supported Initiative 71, viewing it as an opportunity to restore the communities most harmed by the war on drugs.

“Colorado and Washington have used the revenue generated from the taxation of marijuana to provide funding for education and drug treatment,” said Dr. Malik Burnett, Policy Manager Drug Policy Alliance. “We are planning to use the proceeds from marijuana taxation to provide economic opportunity and restorative justice to the communities most harmed by marijuana prohibition. The deal in its current form prevents us from doing that,” Burnett said.

Late last month, D.C. lawmakers voted in favor of legislation that would legally regulate and license the production, distribution and sale of marijuana in the District of Columbia during a meeting of the Committee on Business, Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, which is chaired by D.C. Councilmember Vincent Orange (D-At Large). The panel of Councilmembers voted to approve sections six through eight of the “Marijuana Legalization and Regulation Act of 2013” (Council Bill #20-466), which was introduced in 2013 by Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large). The remaining ten sections of Council Bill 20-466 must first be approved by the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety and the Committee on Finance and Revenue before the entire tax and regulate bill (Council Bill 20-466) can proceed to all thirteen Councilmembers for a vote.

In an effort to push Democrats to stand firm in their support for D.C., Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) held a press conference on this issue late this afternoon. She was joined by Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Sam Farr (D-CA), and Jared Polis (D-CO). “If the city can do something about the stigmatization of Blacks, particularly a “drug conviction” for possession of small amounts of marijuana, it must do it,” said Congresswoman Norton.  “Otherwise, D.C. itself would be complicit in the unemployment and underemployment that we know is the fate of African Americans who carry marijuana convictions.  Legalization can make a dent in this racial injustice,” Norton concluded.

Contact: Tony Newman (646-335-5384) or Michael Collins (404-539-6437)