Today the Council of the District of Columbia Committee on the Judiciary voted to dilute the will of District voters who approved Ballot Initiative 71 by passing unnecessary legislation largely outlawing adult marijuana use in the District. The passage of the controversial measure occurred under unusual circumstances. Almost no notice of the markup of the controversial bill was provided. Notice was not provided to the public until only a few minutes before markup, and even Committee members received less than 24 hours’ notice of bill consideration, in violation of the Committee’s own rules. In a very rare move, remarked upon by other councilmembers, Council Chairman Phil Mendelson joined the committee for the markup and provided the swing vote to advance the bill.
The bill approved by the Committee would make permanent the current blanket ban on marijuana use in private clubs, which is set to expire on April 15th. The bill bars entities from providing adults with private spaces other than a residence to consume marijuana, and requires the Mayor’s office to revoke a business’ license after only one instance of a patron consuming marijuana on the premises.
As written the legislation is needlessly broad and expands the criminalization of marijuana consumption by adults, contrary to the will of District voters who resoundingly rejected marijuana criminalization.
Kaitlyn Boecker of the national affairs office for Drug Policy Alliance had this to say,
“It is clear that Chairman Mendelson and Mayor Bowser rigged the process against the people. Initiative 71, which was overwhelmingly approved by District voters, sought to remove marijuana from the criminal justice system and did not restrict marijuana use by adults. The bill passed today ignores those principles. Today the Council committee charged with managing local marijuana policy acted to criminalize all marijuana consumption outside a residence, in direct opposition of the will of District voters. Recently, several members of the DC Council have acknowledged the need for regulated spaces where adults can consume marijuana without fear of arrest. Rather than instate a blanket ban as they did this afternoon, lawmakers should work to regulate such spaces.
“If this bill is made permanent, a Congressional rider prevents the Council from enacting future legislation to revise or alter the ban down the road. By passing a permanent ban, the Council committee charged with managing local marijuana policy is tying its own hands and voluntarily limiting the District’s sovereignty and its ability to legislate. It is time for the District’s elected officials to stand up to Congress and stop submitting to misguided prohibition policies. District lawmakers should finish the process of legalizing marijuana that voters started with Initiative 71.”
Today’s markup of the permanent bill comes on the heels of a January 5th meeting by the Council during which several Councilmembers voiced significant opposition to identical emergency legislation. The emergency measure was only adopted after intense lobbying by Mayor Bowser, who first introduced the bill in 2015. Serious concerns with the legislation were also expressed by the public and Council Committee on the Judiciary Chair and Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie at a December hearing on the issue. Officials today opted to continue the process of turning this poorly drafted bill into law, putting unjustified fears around unregulated marijuana sales and public consumption ahead of the concerns raised by the public and several of their colleagues on the Council.