D.C. Council passes major improvements to medical marijuana program
Last update: November 9, 2016
In November 2016, the D.C. Council passed a bill, B21-210, that makes important improvements to the medical marijuana program.
The bill requires independent laboratory testing of medical marijuana, which is important for patient safety and is already required in many other states. It also increases the cap on the number of plants a cultivation center can grow to 1,000. Attempts to eliminate the arbitrary and unnecessary cap unfortunately were defeated; New Mexico is the only other state that limits the number of plants that can be grown.
The bill also allows more people to work in the medical marijuana industry. A misdemeanor drug conviction or a conviction for possession with intent to distribute marijuana will no longer be a bar to participation. 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.
In addition, 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 one. 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, it will be some time before the necessary steps can be taken for that provision to take effect.
For more information about the medical marijuana program, you can visit the District Department of Health’s medical marijuana program website.
Congress continues blocking sensible regulation in D.C.
In November 2014, D.C. voters overwhelmingly approved Initiative 71, which legalized the possession and cultivation of limited amounts of marijuana by adults who are 21 and older. It made no provision for non-medical sale, which is still a crime, and does not apply on federal property, including the national Mall and Interstate 295. For those under 21, it left in place the decriminalization law, which imposes a $25 civil fine.
Councilmembers Grosso, Evans, and Nadeau have sponsored legislation to create the regulatory framework necessary for a responsible marijuana industry. The “Marijuana Legalization and Regulation Act of 2015,” B21-0023, 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.
Unfortunately, Congress attached a “rider” to an appropriations bill that blocked the council from spending any money to enact a law that would reduce penalties associated with the use, possession, or sale of marijuana. This rider was set to expire, but Congress passed a “continuing resolution,” extending the existing budget through December 9, thus keeping the rider in place. In addition, some members of Congress have added an even more restrictive rider to the House’s FY2017 budget, but it has not passed the Senate, and MPP is working hard to ensure that it does not do so.
Elections bring change to D.C. Council’s positions on marijuana policy
When the council voted in favor of the social use ban, which effectively bans the consumption of marijuana anywhere outside a private home, the count was seven councilmembers to six. But, two of the councilmembers who supported the ban lost in the Democratic primary election, and their terms will end in 2016. Their replacements are expected to be more willing to support sensible reforms to D.C.’s marijuana policies. Marijuana policy reform was an issue in the elections, with MPP co-hosting a candidate forum and publishing a voter guide.
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