Anne Roth

In 2014, Washington D.C. voters passed an initiative to legalize recreational cannabis with a higher rate of approval than any of the four U.S. states that have also opted out of prohibition — yet the District’s recreational law remains the most intangible and restrictive in the country.

Buying into over-blown fears rooted in prohibitionist ideals, a D.C. City Council Committee approved a law this week that would make permanent the current ban on cannabis use in private clubs — a provision that is set to expire April 15. The Committee appears to have relied on a perfidious strategy to secure the vote: very little notice of the markup was provided. In fact, the public found out only a few minutes beforehand, and participating council members were given less than 24 hours notice, which is against the Committee’s own rules.

The bill would prevent establishments from providing a space for the consumption of marijuana, except in a private residence. It would also require the Mayor’s office to revoke the business license of anyone who violates the ban on their first offense.

“Initiative 71, which was overwhelmingly approved by District voters, sought to remove marijuana from the criminal justice system and did not restrict marijuana use by adults,” said Kaitlyn Boecker, policy associate for the Drug Policy Alliance. “The bill passed today ignores those principles.”

Boecker said that, by making the current ban permanent, the City Council was “tying its own hands” and it would effectively cripple any hope for the District to one day actually establish a regulatory framework for legal cannabis. This is due to a Congressional rider attached to the 2015 omnibus spending bill, which would prevent the Council from “enacting future legislation to revise or alter the ban down the road.”

Meanwhile, District voters continue to support moving forward with the regulation of cannabis in the city. According to a poll of D.C. residents published this morning, 66 percent of respondents believe that Mayor Muriel Bowser should be working to implement the taxation and regulation of cannabis. 63 percent consider cannabis legalization to be a statehood issue for the District. 61 percent would support creating regulated places for adults to consume cannabis outside of private residences, such as in private bars or clubs.

Current Washington D.C. laws allow adults who are 21 and older to possess up to two ounces of cannabis. Such individuals can also grow up to six plants in their home. The commercial distribution of cannabis remains illegal, but it is allowed to gift up to an ounce of marijuana to a friend.

Bill Piper, Senior Director of National Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, said that “The Council and Mayor should listen to residents and take a stand for District autonomy by using reserve funds to tax and regulate marijuana, or at the very least allow the creation of regulated venues where people can legally consume marijuana without fear of arrest or eviction.”

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