District of Columbia
Last Update: January 23, 2015

New council session begins; marijuana legalization and regulation introduced

On November 4, D.C. voters overwhelmingly approved Initiative 71, which would legalize the limited possession and cultivation of marijuana by adults who are 21 or older.

While there is much cause for celebration, Congressman Andy Harris (R-Maryland) has been doing his utmost to put a wet blanket on sensible, democratically-controlled marijuana policies. Some Congressional Republicans believe that a measure included in a funding provision prevents D.C. from implementing the measure; thankfully, D.C. leaders disagree and have sent it to Congress for its 30-day Congressional review.

Due to limitations on what can be in D.C. ballot measures, the initiative does not create a legal, regulated market for marijuana. However, Councilmember Grosso has introduced legislation to create this framework. The Marijuana Legalization and Regulation Act of 2015 – B21-23 ­– would allow the city to register and regulate marijuana cultivators, product manufacturers, retail stores, and testing labs and to impose taxes on the sale of marijuana to adults 21 and older. Please let your councilmembers know you want the District to treat marijuana like alcohol.

For more details about I-71, see MPP’s summary. Congratulations to the Yes on 71 campaign, the Drug Policy Alliance, and everyone else who worked on and voted for this historic effort.

D.C. Council passes, Mayor Gray signs emergency legislation to amend the medical marijuana program

The D.C. Council will transmit to Congress legislation that allows D.C. physicians to recommend marijuana for any debilitating condition they think would respond favorably to the therapeutic use of marijuana and licensed medical marijuana cultivators to possess 500 plants. This legislation mirrors previously enacted and currently active emergency and temporary legislation. Once the Congressional review tolls, this change will be made permanent.

Because emergency legislation is still in place, and temporary legislation is projected to take effect on February 26, physicians do not have to wait for the permanent bill to take effect to recommend medical marijuana to those suffering from PTSD, chronic pain, and a host of other conditions that were not on the list of qualifying conditions, but that have been shown to benefit from marijuana. Increasing the number of plants regulated cultivators may possess ensures that our seriously ill friends and neighbors have access to the medicine their physicians think will work best for them.

If you have a debilitating condition and would like to know more about medical marijuana in the District, talk to your doctor and visit the District Department of Health’s medical marijuana program website. You can also contact any of the three dispensaries operating in D.C.: Metropolitan Wellness Center at Eastern Market, Capital City Care on North Capitol Street, and Takoma Wellness Center in Takoma Park.

D.C. decriminalization bill takes effect

On July 17, the marijuana decriminalization bill approved by the D.C. Council and signed by Mayor Vincent Gray officially took effect! The new law, sponsored by Ward 6 councilmember Tommy Wells, removes all criminal penalties for possession of up to an ounce of marijuana and replaces them with a civil fine of $25. In addition, the simple smell of marijuana no longer gives a police officer grounds to conduct a search of an individual. For more information on the measure, please see our overview of the ordinance.

It is important to note that this is only a change in District law, not federal law. Marijuana possession on federal lands, including the National Mall, is still a criminal offense and violators may be arrested and prosecuted.

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