Today the Council of the District of Columbia voted to halt consideration of legislation that would permanently ban adult consumption of marijuana outside the home, and instead moved forward with the creation of a taskforce to explore the establishment of regulated places where adults can legally consume marijuana in the District.
"The will of District voters was upheld today by the Council, which voted unanimously to move forward on establishing regulated places where adults can consume marijuana," said Kaitlyn Boecker with the Drug Policy Alliance. "One year ago this Council voted unanimously to ban such spaces, stripping residents of their rights under Initiative 71, but today Councilmembers righted that wrong and voted for reform," said Boecker.
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 forpossession 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. Shortly after Initiative 71 took effect last year, Mayor Bowser and the Council passed emergency legislation banning all marijuana consumption outside a residence (even in private membership clubs). Advocates decried the legislation as poorly drafted, unnecessary and overly broad - going so far as to shut down any business where a single patron is caught.
The Council of the District of Columbia was scheduled to vote today on making this ban permanent. Opponents have advocated for months to abandon such prohibition policy and instead compromise on a measure establishing regulated places where adults can legally consume marijuana. However, Mayor Muriel Bowser and Council Chairman Phil Mendelson opposed a compromise and pushed the permanent ban through the Council. Several Councilmembers were prepared to offer amendments to the measure during consideration today, including an amendment to allow a limited number of marijuana clubs in the District. Shortly before the Council was scheduled to consider the permanent ban legislation, Council Committee on the Judiciary Chair and Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie withdrew the bill from consideration.
Despite the withdrawal of the permanent legislation, a final vote on passage of a temporary extension of the ban remained on the Council's schedule. This extension was opposed by a growing number of Councilmembers. Councilmember Vincent Orange led the efforts of such councilmembers Tuesday, offering an amendmentwhich created a seven-person taskforce to issue within 120 days a report with recommendations on establishing regulated places where adults can legally consume marijuana. The amended temporary legislation also extended the current ban by 225 days, in order to allow the taskforce and Council time to consider all recommendations and develop final legislation before making such spaces legal. Recent polling shows widespread support among District voters for creating venues for the consumption of marijuana.
"The Council has taken the first step towards sensible marijuana policy on social consumption of marijuana in the District, but much more needs to be done," said Kaitlyn Boecker, policy associate at the Drug Policy Alliance's Office of National Affairs. "We look forward to working with the taskforce to develop recommendations establishing regulated places where adults can legally consume marijuana."