District of Columbia
Last Update: December 18, 2014

D.C. voters legalize marijuana for adults 21 and older

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 plan to send it to Congress for review in January. Even then, it will have to survive a 30-day review period and could not become effective until February or March 2015.

Due to limitations on what can be in D.C. ballot measures, the initiative does not create a legal, regulated market for marijuana. While Mayor-elect Muriel Bowser and several councilmembers are eager to adopt a measure to take marijuana off the criminal market, Congressional interference stands in the way of doing so. However, the amendment to the federal spending bill only lasts until September, and then there will be a new opportunity to press for autonomy over control of marijuana policy in the District. Please let your councilmembers know you want the District to treat marijuana like alcohol when it is permitted to do so.

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

In January 2015, 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 will take effect at the end of the month, 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. In other words, outside of Colorado and Washington, our nation’s capital has the least punitive marijuana laws in the country. 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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