D.C. lawmakers voted yesterday 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).
Today's action by D.C. lawmakers on a tax and regulate bill comes just three weeks after nearly 70 percent of voters in the District of Columbia approved Initiative 71, a ballot initiative that legalizes possession of up to two ounces of marijuana for adults over the age of 21 and allows individuals to grow up to six marijuana plants in their home. However, due to D.C. law, the initiative was not allowed to address the taxation and regulation of marijuana sales.
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). Today's vote followed a hearing on Council Bill 20-466 that was jointly held by the Committee on Business, Consumer and Regulatory Affairs and the Committee on Finance and Revenue. 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. Advocates do not expect further action on this legislation before the Council adjourns next month, however. Procedurally, the Council would be unable to complete work on the bill in December. Advocates anticipate that Councilmembers will resume consideration of a similar tax and regulate bill in January.
"Today's vote in support of regulating marijuana like alcohol in the nation's capital is a validation of the overwhelming support among District residents for an end to the racial disparities and harm caused by marijuana prohibition," Grant Smith, deputy director of national affairs with the Drug Policy Alliance. "D.C. lawmakers have a clear mandate from the community they serve to pass a bill that regulates marijuana and restores those communities that have been harmed the most by decades of marijuana prohibition," said Smith.
In recent months, a diverse group of community organizations, policy reform advocates and faith leaders has called for an end to marijuana prohibition in the nation's capital, which has resulted in gross racial disparities in the arrests of marijuana users. They are emphasizing the need to repair the damage done to many African-American communities as a result of this policy by reinvesting resources from taxation and regulation of marijuana into the communities that have suffered the most from its criminalization. Advocates also urge the Council to eliminate collateral consequences of a marijuana arrest and plan for the release of people who are currently incarcerated for marijuana law violations. Advocates have urged the Council to use the proceeds from legalization towards rebuilding the communities harmed by the war on drugs.
Initiative 71 was endorsed by the Washington, D.C. chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the D.C. Branch of the National Organization for Women, D.C. Working Families and the local chapters of Service Employees International Union and United Commercial Food Workers. Since D.C. laws prevented Initiative 71 from addressing the taxation and sale of marijuana, the D.C. Council is actively considering Council Bill 20-466.
"On election day, District of Columbia voters threw their support behind legalizing marijuana, and polls consistently show that local residents are ready for taxation and regulation of marijuana," said Grant Smith, deputy director of national affairs with the Drug Policy Alliance. "D.C. lawmakers must act quickly to end decades of failed marijuana prohibition laws that have criminalized tens of thousands and devastated communities of color," said Smith.
Last year, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Washington Lawyers' Committee on Civil Rights and Urban Affairs released groundbreaking reports documenting enormous racial disparities in arrests for marijuana possession in D.C. These reports found that Washington D.C. leads the country in per capita marijuana arrests, doubling that of any other U.S. state, the majority of all drug arrests in the District are for simple possession of marijuana and ninety-one percent of all marijuana arrests are of black people. The possession of one ounce of marijuana is currently decriminalized in the District of Columbia, and persons found with more than this amount face a $25 civil infraction. However, data from the Metropolitan Police Department reveals that 77 percent of tickets written during decriminalization have been in communities of color.