Congress urged to stop blocking sensible regulation in D.C.


Last update: July 11, 2017


In November 2014, D.C. voters overwhelmingly approved Initiative 71, which legalized the possession and cultivation of limited amounts of marijuana by adults 21 and older. Due to the fact that D.C. cannot control its own budget, Congress has been able to block the District from legalizing, taxing, and regulating the sale of marijuana. The lack of any lawful place to purchase non-medical cannabis has led to a proliferation of “grey market” operators and a significant increase in arrests for the distribution of marijuana, which have returned to pre-legalization levels. It also means D.C. is losing out on millions of dollars in tax revenue and hundreds of good jobs.

Councilmembers David Grosso, Brianne Nadeau, and Robert White have sponsored legislation to create the regulatory framework necessary for a responsible marijuana industry: the “Marijuana Legalization and Regulation Act of 2017,” B22-0030. Unfortunately, the Council cannot even hold a hearing on this sensible legislation until Congress stops blocking them from doing so through the appropriations process. Congress must pass new appropriations bills each year to fund the government, so 2017 presents another opportunity to change the law.

Improvements to medical marijuana program slowly rolling out


In 2016 and 2017, D.C. made numerous important improvements to its medical marijuana program. For example, the law now requires independent laboratory testing of medical marijuana, which is important for patient safety and is already required in many other states. Advance practice registered nurses are now eligible to recommend medical cannabis, in addition to physicians, as of June 8, 2017, and the amount a patient can purchase over a 30-day period has increased from two ounces to four.

A misdemeanor drug conviction or a conviction for possession with intent to distribute marijuana will no longer be a bar to participation in the medical marijuana industry. Because African Americans were disproportionally likely to be prosecuted for marijuana crimes, comprising 50% of the population but 91% of those arrested in D.C., this is a great victory for equity and inclusion. Other recent legislation will ensure that minority businesses have an advantage in the licensing process for a new dispensary, which will be licensed to operate east of the Anacostia River in a heavily African American part of the city that is currently not served.

Once a District-wide electronic tracking system is put into place to track patients’ purchases, patients will be able to visit any of D.C.’s five dispensaries, rather than being limited to just one, and patients who are registered with other states’ programs will be able to shop at D.C.’s dispensaries, which is especially important given how many people visit D.C. every year. Unfortunately, the Department of Health is moving slowly to implement these changes.

For more information about the medical marijuana program, you can visit the District Department of Health’s medical marijuana program website.

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