Low-level possession and home cultivation of marijuana has been legal in the nation’s capital since voters’ passage of a ballot measure on the issue in 2014. But consumers there have had no legal place to purchase cannabis.
That could soon change under legislation that Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) is announcing on Thursday that she will send to the District of Columbia Council for consideration.
The mayor and a majority of councilmembers have for several years supported adding a legal sales component to the city’s marijuana law, but they have been blocked by a federal spending rider continually approved by Congress that prevents the District from using local funding to pay for it.
But now that Democrats control the House of Representatives, supporters are hopeful that the provision will be removed from 2020 appropriations legislation.
In the meantime, they mayor believes she and councilmembers can take basic preparatory steps such as introducing a bill and moving it through the Council’s legislative process so that that city will be ready to implement a legal sales program as soon as Congress removes the roadblock to enactment.
Bowser announced details of the legislation at a press conference on Thursday, calling federal spending rider a “shameful abuse of congressional power that has left us with a significant public safety problem.”
— Mayor Muriel Bowser (@MayorBowser) May 2, 2019
“Right now our laws are basically leading adults who want to use cannabis to an illegal market,” she said. “And illegal markets aren’t safe.”
Individuals and families have suffered and continue to suffer because of the criminalization of marijuana. Legalizing recreational marijuana sales is a matter of equity and opportunity. It’s about helping individuals like Cameron get a #FairShot.#SafeCannabisDC pic.twitter.com/0P2DSJ0eUY
— Mayor Muriel Bowser (@MayorBowser) May 2, 2019
Bowser’s proposal would allow adults over age 21 to daily purchase up to one ounce of usable cannabis flower, five grams of concentrates, 16 ounces of edibles, or 72 ounces of liquid cannabinoid products per day.
Delivery services and on-site consumption at dispensaries would be allowed.
A tax of 17 percent would be applied at the point of sale, with revenues going toward housing and health programs.
The bill would create licenses for cultivation, manufacturing, distribution, retail and testing businesses, and the city’s existing medical cannabis providers would get a six-month head start on the adult-use market before other facilities could be licensed.
We want to be able to regulate, we want to be able to make sure we are collecting our fair share in taxes, we want to invest those taxes in communities that have been disproportionately affected, and we want to train and hire DC residents. #SafeCannabisDC https://t.co/lqIn8tofJo
— Muriel Bowser (@MurielBowser) May 2, 2019
Bowser’s legislation would require that 60 percent of owners of new marijuana licenses and 60 percent of employees be D.C. residents.
It would also provide for the automatic sealing of prior criminal records for most marijuana offenses.
“It’s now time to move the D.C. cannabis economy into a regulated marketplace,” NORML Political Director Justin Strekal said. “With thoughtful regulations, city leaders will restrict access by minors, ensure product quality and consumer safety, improve community-police relations and generate revenue to reinvest in the areas that have been hardest hit by the failed policy of marijuana criminalization. Congress must respect the will of D.C. residents and allow the duly elected representatives to do their job.”
Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) told a Washington Post reporter that the body will hold hearings on the legislation.
DC Activists Have A New Plan To Get Psychedelics Decriminalization On The Ballot Despite Coronavirus
Activists in Washington, D.C. are considering a new strategy to get a measure to decriminalize psychedelics on the November ballot, with the coronavirus outbreak having forced them to suspend in-person signature gathering.
While Decriminalize Nature D.C. hoped that officials would pass emergency legislation allowing the digital collection of signatures, they aren’t actively considering that option. And the District Council’s chairman said he would not simply place the initiative on the ballot for voters to decide regardless of the signature count.
That’s left the group in a challenging position. But they’re not out of ideas yet.
Now the campaign is exploring the possibility of conducting “micro-scale petition signature collection” to make the ballot. The plan would involve having petitions mailed to supporters, who would circulate it and collect signatures from “registered DC voters in their immediate vicinity, such as family, roommates, friends and close-by neighbors” and then return the signed petitions to the campaign headquarters.
We've received excellent feedback from our NEW Supporter Survey! This is your chance to give input as we adapt to opportunities and challenges presented by COVID-19. Please complete and share the survey here: https://t.co/B0LYBI4eXX #DecrimNature #Initiative81 #RestoringOurRoots
— DecrimNatureDC (@DecrimNatureDC) March 30, 2020
They’ve launched an online survey to determine the feasibility of the option. It asks prospective volunteers to estimate how many signatures they could theoretically collect under that limited scope and provide their mailing information should the campaign decide to move forward with the plan.
This is one of the last remaining options for the 2020 effort, which is working to make a wide range of psychedelics among the district’s lowest law enforcement priorities.
Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) said during a press conference on Friday that he “would not say that we’re looking for legislative action to put [the initiative] on the ballot” outside of the conventional process.
Board of Elections Chairman Michael Bennett also took a question about the prospect of allow electronic signature collection. He said his panel is not considering the possibility “at this point.”
Watch the comments below, starting around 22:15:
Decriminalize Nature D.C. is one of numerous groups working to change local and state drug policy laws. And it’s not alone in its struggle amid the current pandemic.
A California campaign to legalize psilocybin mushrooms is struggling and asking for electronic signature gathering to qualify for the ballot.
In Oregon, advocates for a measure to decriminalize drug possession and a separate initiative to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes have suspended in-person campaign events amid the pandemic.
Activists in California recently released a video asking California officials to allow digital signatures for a petition to revise the state’s adult-use marijuana program. An effort to legalize medical cannabis in Nebraska is facing similar signature gathering challenges. A campaign to legalize cannabis in Missouri is also in jeopardy.
Arizona activists shared some more positive news last week, however, announcing that they have collected more than enough signatures to qualify for the state’s November ballot—though they have not yet been submitted to or verified by the state.
Marijuana Legalization Left Out Of New York Budget, According To Draft Summary Document
The New York legislature seems poised to eliminate a proposal to legalize marijuana through the budget this year, according to an unverified document outlining the policies included in the spending legislation currently under final negotiations ahead of a vote this week.
The draft budget report, which was shared with Marijuana Moment, includes a line stating that the “Adopted Budget omits the Executive proposal to legalize adult use cannabis.”
It also “eliminates $34.31 million in funding for the Office for Cannabis Management,” a government body that would have been responsible for regulating the marijuana market.
The apparent exclusion of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) legalization proposal, while disappointing to reform advocates, is not entirely surprising in the context of the coronavirus outbreak. While the governor repeatedly stressed that the policy change should be enacted through the budget, he and top lawmakers have tried to temper expectations in recent weeks as legislative priorities have shifted during the pandemic.
But to some, the draft adopted budget report isn’t necessarily a death knell for the reform move, and they hope lawmakers can still accomplish legalization this year through separate legislation.
“We are disappointed adult use is not in the budget since it would have been a huge economic benefit to New York farmers and small businesses,” Allan Gandelman, president of the NY Cannabis Growers & Processors Association, told Marijuana Moment. “We hope to continue working with the governor and the legislature to get this done as soon as possible.”
The legislature must still vote on the final budget, but there’s little time left to hash out a deal on comprehensive reform ahead of a Wednesday deadline. Sen. Liz Krueger (D) filed a revised standalone legalization bill earlier this month, language of which could have theoretically been inserted into the budget, but it’s not clear that option remains on the table.
Marijuana Moment reached out to Senate and Assembly leadership for comment about the draft budget summary, but representatives were not immediately available. The document, which according to its metadata was last modified on Sunday afternoon, contains highlighted sections for issues that are “still open” for negotiation, but that is not the case for the cannabis items.
This is the second year in a row that Cuomo has pitched legalization as part of his spending plan. Last year, months of negotiation between his office and lawmakers failed to produce a passable bill—with disagreements centering on issues such as how tax revenue would be allocated—and so the effort carried over to this year.
The governor seemed confident that 2020 would be the year for legal cannabis in New York, and he included the proposal in his State of the State address in January. As recently as last week, he indicated the effort was still alive, though he also recognized that it may prove too complicated an issue to ultimately deliver through the budget this round.
“We will pass a budget and address the policy items that we laid out and we discussed because it’s not just about passing a budget and the numbers,” he said. “There are many policy initiatives that I laid out back in January, and we’re going to pursue all of them.”
“The only caveat was if you have a really complex issue that normally would require weeks of nuanced, detailed negotiation to do it right, that we won’t do. Because I don’t want to pass any bills that are not really intelligent that I then have to come back and deal with again next year,” he continued. “If it’s a highly complex issue, I get it and then let’s put it off because we don’t want to do something sloppy.”
Another part of the governor’s legalization plan originally involved visiting legal cannabis states to learn from their experiences and take lessons back home. However, Cuomo said that trip was also impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak.
Meanwhile, drug policy reform efforts across the country are struggling amid the pandemic.
Activists in California recently released a video asking California officials to allow digital signatures for a petition to revise the state’s adult-use marijuana program. In Washington, D.C., advocates for a measure to decriminalize psychedelics similarly wrote to the mayor and local lawmakers, imploring them to accept online signatures for their ballot petition.
Another California campaign to legalize psilocybin mushrooms is struggling and asking for electronic signature gathering to qualify for the ballot. An effort to legalize medical cannabis in Nebraska is facing similar signature gathering challenges. A campaign to legalize cannabis in Missouri is also in jeopardy.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.
Senate Housing Bill Would Prevent Evictions For State-Legal Marijuana Extraction
A new congressional bill designed to promote affordable housing in the U.S. includes a provision that would prevent landlords from evicting people over manufacturing marijuana extracts if they have a license to do so.
Under the legislation, filed earlier this month by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), there’s a list of “just causes for eviction” such as failure to pay rent or causing significant damage to a property.
The “manufacture of a cannabinoid extract” is another cause for eviction, “unless the tenant holds a license to manufacture the cannabinoid extract under Federal, State, or Tribal law.”
Curiously, however, the bill lacks any additional protections for other state-legal cannabis activities, including simple possession. It’s possible that a drafting error is to blame, but Merkley’s office did not respond to Marijuana Moment’s request for comment.
Just above the manufacturing provision is another that states that “the unlawful manufacture, delivery, or possession of a controlled substance” is ground for eviction, though it contains no caveat exempting state-legal activity as cause for eviction.
Despite the growing number of states moving to allow cannabis for medical or recreational use, it remains “unlawful” under the federal Controlled Substances Act.
While advocates would likely applaud the inclusion of state-legal protection language, it’s also the case that eviction proceedings are handled at the state level, and so some courts would presumably defer to state law when it comes to cannabis-related eviction cases.
Also, when it comes to the manufacturing provision, states generally do not provide licenses that would specifically allow individuals to produce marijuana extracts in their residences, so it’s unclear how impactful that policy would be in practice if enacted into law.
Of course, the cannabis provision is just one notable part of a comprehensive housing bill, which aims to “address the shortcomings of our current housing policies and funding levels by holistically addressing disparities and systematic obstacles and ensuring an equitable outcome for the most vulnerable Americans.”
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) rolled out a different kind of housing reform bill last year that would protect people with low-level drug convictions from being denied access to or being evicted from public housing.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.