Will DC be the next jurisdiction to legalize recreational marijuana dispensaries?

Legal recreational marijuana dispensaries in DC?

DC may well be on its way to legalizing recreational marijuana dispensaries, but the road isn’t completely cleared yet.  An anti-marijuana stance remains a common theme for Congressional conservatives and as elections grow closer, the chance of changing sides looks slim.  However, the unique nature of the District’s local government makes for some interesting speculation, as well as hopeful pot smokers.  Read on for details.

Although the District of Columbia is allowed to elect a mayor and a 13-member City Council to decide local laws, it is ultimately the US Congress that has the final say on the implementation of those new laws after a 30-day review, as per the US Constitution. Essentially, Congress has full authority to determine if a law passed by DC’s local government becomes effective or not.

For example, DC residents voted to legalize medical marijuana in 1998 (Initiative 59).  Unfortunately for supporters, to thwart the DC decision, pro-”just say no” Republicans voted to amend the budget, effectively preventing the District from spending any money to enact the law. To make matters worse, the same ban on funds was added to every budget for the next 10 years, ensuring the inability of the DC City Council to put Initiative 59 into action.  Finally in 2009, after the ban on funding was removed DC moved forward, passing legislation to license medical marijuana dispensaries.

By the same token, recreational use of marijuana was passed in DC in 2014 by 70 percent of voters (Initiative 71).  At that time, a similar device was used by Republican Rep. Andy Harris of Maryland and other senior Republicans to tack on a rider preventing DC from using any money to manifest the decriminalization of marijuana in the District.  The good news is, that ban ends on October 1, 2015.  Politics being politics, however, a lot remains to be done to actually see the District’s legislation take effect.

The Battle of the Budget and the Hope Ahead

According to Keith Stroup in his article for Norml, “When Obama sent his proposed 2016 budget to Congress earlier in the year, he did not include any ban on spending District funds to legalize marijuana (the ban against using federal funding was retained), taking the position that this is a matter for the District to decide, not the Congress.  And while the latest House Appropriations Committee budget did contain the ban, when the Senate Appropriations Committee recently completed their District appropriations bill, the ban was not included.”  This leaves the fate of the DC recreational marijuana legislation to be decided by a conference committee, and given the loosening of national attitudes toward weed in general, the future looks brighter than ever.

Once the ban on funding is lifted, it’s reasonable to expect the District of Columbia to begin establishing a taxable marijuana growing and selling design for residents sooner rather than later.  It helps that everyone from Mayor Muriel Bowser to the DC City Council, to Police Chief Cathy Lanier support the move to legalize.  For more information, see: http://blog.norml.org/2015/08/03/will-dc-be-next-with-recreational-dispensaries/


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