Council Chairman Phil Mendelson Pushes Bill Through the Council Despite Strong Opposition from the Public and Councilmembers
DPA: Public Favors Legal Regulation of Marijuana Clubs, Not A Ban; District residents are still fighting to have their voices heard
The Council of the District of Columbia plans to vote tomorrow on legislation that restricts adult marijuana use in the District, prohibiting marijuana consumption everywhere but the home. The legislation is opposed by a majority of District residents and a growing number of councilmembers who oppose limiting consumption of marijuana to the home, favoring instead the creation of regulated places where adults can legally consume marijuana. Councilmembers are expected to offer amendments to the measure to allow a limited number of marijuana clubs in the District. Mayor Muriel Bowser and Council Chairman Phil Mendelson have opposed a compromise and have pushed the bill through the council in a move advocates say dilutes the will of D.C. voters and limits the District’s local autonomy.
“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, policy associate at the Drug Policy Alliance’s Office of National Affairs. “Initiative 71 granted adults the right to consume marijuana with other adults, a right which many councilmembers intend to fight for on Tuesday.”
The legislation would limit adult marijuana use in the District and require the revocation of a business’ license after a single instance of marijuana consumption by a patron on the premises. Recent polling shows widespread support among District voters for creating venues for the consumption of marijuana. Some lawmakers are heeding their constituents’ views, with several councilmembers intending to offer amendments during council consideration of the legislation, ranging from repealing penalties, to authorizing private clubs, to establishing a task force to consider the issue.
The legislation was scheduled for the first of two votes before the council on Tuesday after Council Chairman Phil Mendelson made a series of procedural maneuvers to push the bill through the legislative process, including bypassing an additional opportunity for the council to consider the bill before voting tomorrow. The maneuvers drew objections from some councilmembers.
Initiative 71, which was overwhelmingly approved by District voters in 2014, legalized the possession of up to two ounces marijuana for adults over the age of 21, and allowed individuals to grow up to six plants in their home. The implementation of Ballot Initiative 71 in the District has resulted in an unprecedented drop in arrests for possession of marijuana. D.C. laws prevented the ballot initiative from addressing the taxation and sale of marijuana, which requires action by the D.C. Council. However more than a year ago, Congress blocked D.C. lawmakers from using locally raised public funds to tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol. This congressional ban does not prevent Mayor Bowser and local officials from legally using previously appropriated emergency reserve funds to pay for costs associated with enacting and implementing a system of taxing and regulating marijuana in the District.
“Mayor Bowser and Council Chairman Mendelson remain opposed to a measured approach to the marijuana club issue and instead favor prohibition policies,” said Boecker. “Should the council proceed with a permanent ban they will be stripping residents of their rights under Initiative 71, and voluntarily limiting the District’s sovereignty and its ability to legislate, since the congressional rider prohibits future legislation to modify the ban down the road,” said Boecker.