Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) is considering making an end run around Congress by legalizing recreational marijuana sales in the nation’s capital while a rider blocking the city from doing so is temporarily expired due to the ongoing federal government shutdown.
“I haven’t ruled out anything,” Bowser said in response to a question from Marijuana Moment about potentially taking advantage of the rider’s lapse to act on the long-stalled issue.
She was speaking during a question-and-answer session following a press conference announcing the opening of new medical cannabis dispensary in the city.
Cutting the ribbon on Anacostia Organics, the first medical marijuana dispensary east of the river. https://t.co/Wel91xS63s
— Mayor Muriel Bowser (@MayorBowser) January 24, 2019
Under a ballot measure approved by the city’s voters in 2014, low-level cannabis possession and home cultivation are legal, but residents have nowhere to legally purchase recreational marijuana.
That’s because a rider in federal appropriations legislation has blocked D.C. from spending its own local tax dollars to legalize and regulate marijuana sales for adult use. It has been passed and extended by the Republican Congress for the past several years, but advocates are hopeful that it will soon be eliminated with the change in power in the House of Representatives stemming from Democrats’ midterm election wins.
In the meantime, it, along with other federal spending provisions, is expired during the federal shutdown.
However, the Democratic-controlled House has voted three times this month, most recently on Wednesday, to pass federal appropriations bills that contain the rider blocking D.C. marijuana sales legalization. The legislation is largely similar to proposals that advanced in the Republican-controlled Senate last year, and approving the measures is part of Democrats’ strategy to end the shutdown.
For now the mayor is withholding criticism of the Democrats’ inclusion of the rider in their recent bills.
“Any proposal will have to go along with a congressional strategy,” she said in response to Marijuana Moment’s question about whether the recent activity on Capitol Hill has frustrated her. “We have to be smart about it so we can get it done.”
If the rider makes its way to the president’s desk and is signed, which remains an uncertain prospect given the volatile state of ongoing budgetary debates, Bowser and the District Council would have to choose whether to defy federal law by passing legislation to legalize cannabis sales anyway, or wait for another appropriations window starting with a new fiscal year in October.
“What I can say at this point is that we are examining those questions in relation to the Mayor’s plan,” Alana Intrieri, director of D.C.’s Office of Policy and Legislative Affairs, told Marijuana Moment in an email last week.
Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) also appeared at the dispensary opening with Bower, and suggested that the rider won’t be around much longer, even if it is temporarily extended.
“We still are fighting,” she said. “It’s gonna go now that we have a Democratic Congress.”
Tune in as we celebrate the unveiling of the first medical marijuana dispensary east of the river! https://t.co/53WhUkmpLu
— Eleanor Holmes Norton (@EleanorNorton) January 24, 2019
Bowser pledged earlier this month to “soon” announce details of marijuana sales legalization bill she plans to propose to the Council.
“We have an untenable situation in the District that I believe makes us unsafe,” she said at a previous appearance in November. “As long as we have the ability to possess marijuana, which is our law, we also need the ability to procure marijuana legally, which we don’t have now.”
Meanwhile, several councilmembers already filed their own bill to legalize recreational cannabis sales in the D.C. earlier this month.
Aaron Houston contributed reporting to this story.
Photo courtesy of Ted Eytan.
Senate Schedules Hearing On Marijuana Business Banking Access
In one of the clearest signs of marijuana reform’s growing momentum on Capitol Hill, a Republican-controlled Senate committee has scheduled a hearing for next week that will examine cannabis businesses’ lack of access to banking services.
The formal discussion in the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs on Tuesday comes as legislation aimed at resolving the marijuana industry’s financial services problems is gaining momentum. A House cannabis banking bill that cleared that chamber’s Financial Services Committee with a bipartisan vote in March now has 206 cosponsors—nearly half the body—while companion Senate legislation has 32 out of 100 senators signed on.
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Congressman Files Marijuana Bill After Leaving Republican Party
In one of his first legislative acts since leaving the Republican Party earlier this month amid a feud with the president, Rep. Justin Amash (I-MI) filed a bill on Monday that would let states set their own marijuana policies without federal interference.
If that sounds familiar, it’s because bipartisan legislation that would accomplish the same goal has already been filed this Congress.
But unlike the nearly identical Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act, Amash’s new bill excludes one provision that would require the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to study the effects of cannabis legalization on road safety and issue a report on its findings within a year of the law’s enactment.
That language states that the GAO must study “traffic crashes, fatalities, and injuries” in legal cannabis states, actions taken by those states to “address marihuana-impaired driving,” testing standards being used to detect impaired driving and federal initiatives “aiming to assist States that have legalized marihuana with traffic safety.”
Given Amash’s libertarian leanings, it stands to reason that he opposes spending government dollars to conduct the research and simply supports the broader states’ rights intent of the original legislation.
That would also put him at odds with social justice advocates who feel that the STATES Act itself doesn’t go far enough and are pushing for more comprehensive legislation that includes additional provisions addressing social equity and restorative justice for people harmed by drug law enforcement.
Members of the House Judiciary Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security Subcommittee heard that debate play out during a historic hearing on ending federal marijuana prohibition last week.
A newly formed coalition of civil rights and drug reform organizations, including the ACLU, is also insisting on passing wide-ranging legislation to deschedule cannabis entirely that also invests in communities that have been disproportionately impacted by prohibition.
Amash is a long-standing critic of the war on drugs and earlier this year signed on as a cosponsor of a separate bill that would federally deschedule marijuana. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, filed that legislation, which is also silent on social equity provisions.
— Justin Amash (@justinamash) March 8, 2019
Gabbard also introduced a separate bill that would require the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and other federal agencies to study the impacts of legalization. True to form, Amash declined to add his name to that measure as well.
Read the text of Amash’s new cannabis bill below:
Photo courtesy of Kyle Jaeger.
Berkeley City Council Considers Decriminalizing Psychedelics This Week
A resolution to decriminalize psilocybin and other psychedelics will go before a Berkeley, California City Council committee on Wednesday.
Decriminalize Nature, the group behind the measure, also led the charge to successfully get a measure decriminalizing entheogenic plants and fungi approved by the City Council in neighboring Oakland last month.
In Berkeley, the Public Safety Committee will discuss the proposal and can either decide to hold it for a future meeting or advance it to the full Council. The public is able to attend Wednesday’s special meeting and share their perspective on the resolution, but Decriminalize Nature stressed in a tweet that this “is a small meeting, so you do NOT need to attend.”
Is it time for #DecriminalizeNature #Berkeley? Agenda 4 at the public safety meeting this Wed. July 17, with the Decriminalize Nature team! This is a small meeting, so you do NOT need to attend. But if you live in Berkeley, write your City Council! https://t.co/gMSDkegMPU
— Decriminalize Nature (@DecrimNature) July 15, 2019
However, city residents are being encouraged to write to their Council members and urge them to vote in favor of the measure, which would codify that “no department, agency, board, commission, officer or employee of the city, including without limitation, Berkeley Police Department personnel, shall use any city funds or resources to assist in the enforcement of laws imposing criminal penalties for the use and possession of Entheogenic Plants by adults of at least 21 years of age.”
The resolution defines the covered substances as “plants and natural sources such as mushrooms, cacti, iboga containing plants and/or extracted combinations of plants similar to ayahuasca; and limited to those containing the following types of compounds: indoleamines, tryptamines, phenethylamines.”
Councilmembers Rigel Robinson and Cheryl Davila are sponsoring the resolution, which does not allow for commercial sales or manufacturing.
The lawmakers provided background information on the measure in a report to their colleagues and the mayor, describing the medical potential of various psychedelics as well as the success of decriminalization measures in Denver and Oakland.
“It is intended that this resolution empowers Berkeley residents to be able to grow their own entheogens, share them with their community, and choose the appropriate setting for their intentions instead of having to rely exclusively on the medical establishment, which is slow to adapt and difficult to navigate for many,” they wrote.
While efforts to eliminate criminal penalties associated with psilocybin and other psychedelics have so far centered in jurisdictions that have historically embraced marijuana legalization and broader drug reform, the conversation around decriminalizing psychedelics is spreading nationally.
Shortly after Oakland approved its measure, Decriminalize Nature received inquiries from activities in cities from across the country. The group has kept track of each city where organizers are pursuing decriminalization.
Nature lovers are organizing coast to coast (and Hawaii)! Is your city on the map? Connect to join with your local community, or if you have the motivation to propose a similar initiative in your city/town/county, let’s start growing! contact [email protected] #DNUSA pic.twitter.com/38UxLKK9RN
— Decriminalize Nature (@DecrimNature) July 2, 2019
On Monday, a conversation around changing laws governing psychedelics reared during a City Council meeting in Columbia, Missouri. One resident implored the body to take up a resolution to decriminalize the natural substances, pointing to their therapeutic benefits.
Councilmember Mike Trapp said that the student’s proposal should be considered and that a government advisory board on public health should provide input on the medical potential of psychedelics, describing it as “very promising.”