Congress continues to block regulation of marijuana; Council reconsiders social use ban
Last update: January 25, 2016
In November 2014, D.C. voters overwhelmingly approved Initiative 71, which legalized the limited possession and cultivation of marijuana by adults who are 21 or older. The law makes no provision for sales, and it does not apply on federal property, which makes up a large portion of the District. Please see our summary for more details.
Initiative 71 did not specifically address where adults could smoke marijuana, and public use remains a criminal offense. Unfortunately, the D.C. Council expanded the definition of a public place immediately after I-71 took effect, temporarily banning all use of cannabis outside of the home, even in private clubs or at private events. MPP has been advocating for the expiration or modification of this ban, so that people who cannot or do not want to use marijuana in their homes have a safe place to go. Please ask your councilmembers and Mayor Bowser to oppose making the ban permanent.
Outrageously, Congress continues to block the council from moving to tax and regulate marijuana. They have used an appropriations rider, which forbids the council to spend money on reducing penalties associated with the use, possession, or sale of marijuana. Our federal team — along with our allies — continues to work to remove that prohibition.
Once they succeed, the council is ready to act. Councilmember David Grosso has introduced legislation to create the regulatory framework necessary for a responsible marijuana industry. The Marijuana Legalization and Regulation Act of 2015 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.
Some councilmembers are ready to go further and use “reserve funds” to pass and implement a regulatory framework now. Reserve funds are not restricted by the rider, because they are not part of the annual appropriation from Congress. In order to do this, the mayor would have to take action to release the funds.
Medical marijuana program taking root
The District’s medical marijuana program has gone through quite a bit of compassionate change over the last two years. For example, the law was amended to allow physicians to recommend medical marijuana for any condition they think will benefit from its use, giving hundreds of additional patients from around the city legal and safe access to medical marijuana. Currently, the council is considering a bill that would provide reciprocity to out-of-state patients, B21-0210, and another that would require testing of medical marijuana, B21-0192, so patients know what they are getting.
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.
Individuals under 21
On July 17, 2014, legislation decriminalizing marijuana took effect. While Initiative 71 removed penalties for marijuana use and possession for those 21 and older, it left decriminalization in place for individuals under 21. Since passage, possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by an individual under 21 has been punishable by 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, like Initiative 71, 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.
Thank you for supporting the Marijuana Policy Project. To stay updated on the status of marijuana policy reform in Washington, D.C., be sure to subscribe to MPP’s free legislative alert service, if you haven’t done so already.