Washington, DC is best known as the battleground for Congress, a stage for legislative developments that affect the country.
But beyond the new iron fences around the Capitol, the district itself is a vibrant city full of culture and ethnic history. And thanks to centuries-old laws that give Congress complete control over the capital, it is home to the most unique cannabis industry in the country: while it is legal to own and even grow at home, selling cannabis in DC has been legal since legalization went into effect six years ago .
Yet industry activists and stakeholders believe change is imminent, now that the White House has a new resident and the Senate is under Democratic control. The DC government seems to agree: According to official figures, preparations are already underway for local licensing and regulation of adult cannabis sales.
The Cannabis Business Times and Cannabis Dispensary spoke to experts on the DC cannabis scene about how the new industry should be regulated and what is the most likely path to establishing adult sales in the district.
What is the current status of cannabis in DC?
DC legalized cannabis with its Initiative 71, which was passed in 2014 and went into effect in February 2015. The new law allowed adult residents to own up to two ounces of cannabis, grow up to six plants at home, and consume them on private property. Residents are also allowed to “give gifts” to someone up to an ounce, but sales of any amount are banned thanks to the infamous “Harris Rider,” a regulation blocking the sale of cannabis in DC that Rep. Andy Harris put on the federal budget for years became (R-MD).
The sales ban has created an industry of discreet “pop-up” marketplaces, often hosted in a private residence or other location that is only open to attendees. Although these underground “pharmacies” are often heavily guarded, they are also frequent targets of police raids and violent crimes, especially robbery, as perpetrators know that salespeople are in a legal gray area and are unlikely to call the police or suspect the incident Report.
Recent movement in DC cannabis sales
In early 2021, the government decided to correct the situation through local laws. Two separate bills were tabled: Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Safe Cannabis Sales Act of 2021, and Councilor Phil Mendelson’s Comprehensive Cannabis Legalization and Regulation Act of 2021.
The calculations are similar, but with some important differences. Mayor Bowser’s bill sets specific caps on the amount of revenue to be used for community grants and business start-up support, while Councilor Mendelson’s bill sets 50% of cannabis revenue for a community reinvestment fund and 30% for a social equity fund Used to provide credit and assistance. to applicants for a social justice license. The mayor’s bill also restricts license types to only five types, although both bills create license categories for micro-businesses. Bowser’s bill also has a higher tax rate of 17% compared to 13% in Mendelson’s proposal.
Compare bills and predict the future
Activists seem to clearly favor Councilor Mendelson’s plan.
“The mayor’s bill doesn’t even deserve to be taken seriously,” said Adam Eidinger, founder of advocacy group DC Marijuana Justice and a key figure in the passage of Initiative 71 in the district.
Eidinger told the Cannabis Business Times and Cannabis Dispensary that Bowser’s law would effectively end home growing, a key provision in legalization laws that provide fair access to cannabis.
“There’s a ten ounce rule. … you can’t have more than ten ounces of cannabis in your house under your bill, ”added Eidinger. “Why is that in there at all? It’s there to enrich the corporate establishment that doesn’t like growing at home. “
Eidinger argued that any law to legalize should go in the opposite direction, raising or removing the current limit of six plants. He stressed that the district would be best served by creating a “smelting industry” for cannabis, similar to craft beer or products.
“We systematically go to the council members and ask them, ‘Did you consider bargain sales first? Have you ever thought about farmers ‘markets and giving home growers a legal opportunity to sell their cannabis?’ ”Said Eidinger.
“What we are not fighting for is a closed, high barrier to entry [industry with] limited number of licenses for breeders and sellers. We’d rather see the free market. … drop the chips where they want and the best companies will rise to the top. … I think we can do a homework here – we are really suitable for that. “
In March, the Drug Policy Alliance also issued a statement favoring the Mendelson City Council bill.
Morgan Fox, media relations director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, which has offices in the district, agreed that cannabis sales in DC will likely be allowed sooner rather than later – possibly even before the state cannabis movement.
“I think the chances of Congress passing a bill that omits the Harris Rider this year are much greater than the chances of Congress dropping cannabis,” Fox said via email. “Given that Mayor Bowser has publicly stated that DC regulators are already preparing for one of the two regulatory bills to be passed before the council, I would say the likelihood that DC will regulate cannabis before the federal government starts that process , is quite high. “
What about statehood?
Some believe the DC may need to achieve statehood first in order to evade the restrictions imposed by Congress. HR 51, a resolution to convert the district’s residential and commercial zones into the country’s 51st state, was passed in the House of Representatives last month.
But with a wafer-thin Democratic lead in the Senate and moderate Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) who publicly announced his rejection of the proposal, DC currently has no realistic path to statehood.
“I’m currently pretty pessimistic about statehood,” said Eidinger. “The real assessment is that people like Joe Manchin are getting in the way.” Fox also agreed that DC is likely to pass legislation regulating cannabis sales before the government grants statehood to the district.
That means it will likely be up to DC lawmakers, activists, and voters to create the kind of equitable cannabis industry that the District of Columbia – with its rich history of black and brown prosperity – deserves.