The mayor of Washington, D.C. on Friday introduced a bill to create a regulated marijuana market in the District. And while similar legislation has been introduced in past years, the new proposal comes as Democrats take control of both chambers of Congress—a situation that bodes well for removing a federal spending rider that has long blocked legal cannabis sales from being implemented in the nation’s capital.
In other words, there’s renewed hope among advocates that 2021 will finally be the year that a commercial cannabis industry can be established in D.C., where voters approved an initiative legalizing marijuana possession and home cultivation in 2014. Congressional appropriations legislation has since prevented the District from authorizing sales, with Republicans in the majority in at least one chamber on Capitol Hill.
Mayor Muriel Bowser’s (D) bill largely reflects past proposals, though it does include new licensing provisions and funding mechanisms that are meant to bolster social equity in the industry.
Today, we introduced the Safe Cannabis Sales Act of 2021 to create an equitable adult-use cannabis program, advance a safer and more just DC, and empower and uplift residents who have been disproportionately affected by the criminalization of cannabis.
— Mayor Muriel Bowser (@MayorBowser) February 26, 2021
“This is about safety, equity, and justice,” Bowser said in a press release. “Through this legislation, we can fulfill the will of D.C. voters, reduce barriers for entering the cannabis industry, and invest in programs that serve residents and neighborhoods hardest hit by the criminalization of marijuana.”
Under the Safe Cannabis Sales Act, adults 21 and older would be allowed to purchase marijuana from licensed dispensaries starting October 1, 2022. A 17 percent tax would be imposed on cannabis sales.
The bill would provide for automatic expungements of prior marijuana convictions and use part of the tax revenue from cannabis sales to support reinvestments in communities most impacted by prohibition. It would also create a new licensing category for delivery services, with a stipulation that eligibility is continent on residency and income factors, such as requiring owners to have lived in certain low-income wards for at least five years.
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The proposal calls for some tax revenue to be used for grants to be awarded to “locally disadvantaged certified business enterprises to open/expand sit-down restaurants in Wards 7/8. Additional monies would be used to support small grocery stores in those areas. Starting in fiscal year 2023, revenue would fund “school supplies, equipment, and afterschool sports and activities for students attending public schools” in those wards.
With respect to licensing, the legislation would also provide “preference points for certain cannabis business applications for returning citizens or D.C. residents arrested or convicted of a cannabis offense or to a cannabis certified business enterprise or veteran owned business enterprises.”
The activist group D.C. Marijuana Justice expressed concerns with several provisions of Bowser’s bill, including that it could limit the amount of cannabis that people could possess after growing the plant at home under the city’s current law.
You know the "cannabis that has been cut from the cannabis plant" weighs MORE immediately after it is cut from the plant due to water weight.
One *BRANCH* from the cannabis plant, with leaves, buds, and stem can weigh well over 10ozs after it's been cut. pic.twitter.com/i5foTTkCsE
— DC Marijuana Justice💨🏛💨🏛💨🏛💨 (@DCMJ2014) February 27, 2021
Last year, the mayor released a budget plan for the 2021 fiscal year that contained a signal that the local government was preparing to implement regulations for retail marijuana sales just as soon as Congress allowed it by shifting the city’s current medical cannabis program to the jurisdiction of the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA).
Bowser also unveiled a legalization bill in 2019, and part of it called for ABRA to regulate the legal industry and for the agency to be renamed the Alcoholic Beverage and Cannabis Administration, a change that is also included in the mayor’s latest legislation.
Meanwhile, next door to the District, lawmakers in Virginia sent a marijuana legalization bill to the desk of Gov. Ralph Northam (D) on Saturday. On the other side of the city, legislators in Maryland are also considering legalizing cannabis this year.
In D.C., Bowser approved legislation in December to decriminalize possession of drug paraphernalia for personal use and promote harm reduction.
Activists filed a proposed ballot initiative to legalize marijuana sales in August, but it did not advance.
Separately, a local councilman introduced a bill in October that would expand opportunities for formerly incarcerated people to participate in the city’s existing medical cannabis market. The new legislation from Bowser would specifically make it so “returning citizens and D.C. residents with a criminal background” could work or manage a marijuana businesses. And those with past cannabis convictions could own a marijuana business.
Read the mayor’s marijuana sales bill below:
Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.