After much debate marijuana is now legal in Washington, D.C.. 

As of Midnight Thursday, marijuana is now legal in Washington, D.C. However, how long weed stays decriminalized in the nation’s capital remains to be seen. After Washington D.C. residents voted in support of legal pot this past Election Day, Congress attempted to block the bill by attaching preventative measures in an unrelated $1.1 trillion spending deal. However, the definition of the word “enact” gave D.C. officials a loophole in their pursuit to decriminalize weed, and as of 12:01 a.m., pot is legal there unless Congress steps up efforts to stop it.

While other states with legalized weed only allow citizens to be in possession of an ounce of weed, Washington, D.C. doubles that amount with a two-ounce max. Anything over that quantity will result in a $1,000 fine and a potential jail sentence. D.C. residents can also own up to six marijuana plants, but to discourage selling, only three can be budding. Like Alaska, Colorado and Washington, residents can also gift an ounce of weed to a fellow resident, but selling it is still illegal. Like the other pro-pot states, driving under the influence of marijuana and smoking pot in public are against the law, ABC News reports.

As the Washington Post writes, officials in Washington, D.C. argue that Congress’ actions didn’t stop their marijuana bill from passing. Instead, because of Congress’ demand that no money be spent attempting to “enact” the pot bill, all Congress did was prevent city officials from working on a plan for the sale and taxation of the legal marijuana, a process that took over a year in dispensary-happy states like Washington and Colorado. (The Post adds that city officials could face jail time by simply discussing a pot plan during office hours.) As of now, marijuana is simply legal in Washington, D.C. without any plan to cultivate its economic stimulus.

From Congress’ point of view, the decriminalized weed in Washington, D.C. is in strict opposition to the language they tacked on to the spending bill and therefore still illegal in the District of Columbia. Unfortunately for Congress, D.C. Metro police answer only to city officials, who have said that marijuana is legal in the capital.

D.C. Council sets up hearings on marijuana regulation

The D.C. Council is pursuing a regulatory scheme for the sale and taxation of marijuana, scheduling hearings on proposed legislation that flies in the face of congressional attempts to prevent the District from loosening its drug laws.

City officials say council committees expect to begin hearings on the bill in early February — a move that will gauge how far D.C. lawmakers are willing to challenge Congress on the issue.

D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said the council should be in the clear to hold public meetings on the proposed legislation, which would codify regulations regarding marijuana that were not included in a voter-approved ballot initiative.

“All we’re talking about is a hearing,” Mr. Mendelson said. “I don’t think that’s inappropriate. And I think trying to muffle public discussion would implicate constitutional issues. It would be bad public policy.”

The District is still wrangling with Republican members of Congress over the fate of the city’s marijuana legalization initiative, which seven out of 10 voters supported at the ballot box in November. Congress passed a spending bill in December that blocks the District from spending money to “enact any law, rule, or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce penalties associated with the possession” of any schedule 1 drugs.

City lawmakers have taken the legal stance that Initiative 71 was self-executing and took effect when voters approved it — well ahead of the adoption of the spending bill by Congress.

Enacting new laws regarding marijuana in the time since the spending bill was passed is different territory, leaving in question at what point city lawmakers would run afoul of the restrictions approved in the congressional budget package.

Congress Hands A Mixed Bag to Marijuana Movement

The year-end spending bill gives momentum to the marijuana movement, plus a painful setback

For the marijuana legalization movement, 2014 ends the way it began: with legal changes that showcase the movement’s momentum alongside its problems.

Tucked into the 1,603-page year-end spending bill Congress released Tuesday night were a pair of provisions that affect proponents of cannabis reform. Together they form a metaphor for the politics of legal cannabis—an issue that made major bipartisan strides this year, but whose progress is hampered by a tangle of local, state and federal statutes that have sown confusion and produced contradictory justice.

First the good news for reformers: the proposed budget would prohibit law enforcement officials from using federal funds to prosecute patients or legal dispensaries in the 32 states, plus the District of Columbia, that passed some form of medical-marijuana legalization. The provision was crafted by a bipartisan group of representatives and passed the Republican-controlled House in May for the first time in seven tries. If passed into law, it would mark a milestone for the movement, restricting raids against dispensaries and inoculating patients from being punished for an activity that is legal where they live but in violation of federal law.

“The enactment of this legislation will mark the first time in decades that the federal government has curtailed its oppressive prohibition of marijuana, and has instead taken an approach to respect the many states that have permitted the use of medical marijuana to some degree,” Rep. Dana Rohrabacher said in a statement to TIME. The California Republican’s work on the issue reflects the strange coalition that has sprung up to support cannabis reform as the GOP’s libertarian wing gains steam and voters’ views evolve.

At the same time, the House chose to overrule Washington, D.C., on the issue. Last month voters in the District chose to liberalize its marijuana laws, passing an initiative that legalized the possession, consumption and cultivation of recreational marijuana. The move, which was supported by about 70% of the capital’s voters, paved the way for D.C. to follow in the footsteps of Colorado and Washington State by establishing a tax-and-regulatory structure for cannabis sales in 2015.


Washington, D.C.. Legalized Recreational Marijuana

In yet another blow to the United States’ decades-long war on drugs, the nation’s capital has legalized recreational marijuana, NPR and USA Today reported Tuesday night.

Washington, D.C., voters on Tuesday approved Initiative 71, which legalizes adult marijuana use, possession of up to two ounces and home cultivation of up to six marijuana plants for personal use. With 29 percent of votes in, 68 percent of District residents supported the measure, and 31 percent were opposed.

Under the measure, the sale of marijuana remains illegal, but the Council of the District of Columbia is considering a separate bill that would allow for the regulation and taxation of marijuana sales, similar to laws on the books in Colorado and Washington state.

And even though sales are not yet allowed, the passage of the law on the federal government’s home turf represents one of the largest symbolic shifts in U.S. marijuana policy since Colorado and Washington state legalized the drug two years ago.

Supporters praised the measure as a step toward resolving the racial disparity in the District’s marijuana arrest rates.

“The people of D.C. have voted in favor of ending racially-biased marijuana prohibition,” said Dr. Malik Burnett, policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance, in a statement Tuesday night. “The harms caused by the war on drugs are not fixed with this vote alone; the real healing begins with the D.C. Council developing a tax and regulate system which is based on racial and social justice.”

According to the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, arrest statistics from 2009 to 2011 revealed that nine out of 10 people arrested for drug offenses in Washington were black, though blacks make up just slightly more than half of the city’s population. Government surveys show that blacks are no more likely than whites to use the drug.

While the measure was popular among voters, The Washington Post, the most widely circulated newspaper in the District, raised eyebrows when it came out against the ballot measure in two separate editorials leading up to the vote.

The ballot measure builds on several recent moves to remove restrictions on marijuana in Washington. The District legalized medical marijuana in 2010, and its first medical marijuana dispensary opened last year. Earlier this year, the D.C. Council decriminalized the possession of an ounce or less of marijuana.

Tom Angell, chairman of the marijuana advocacy group Marijuana Majority, said, “With marijuana legal in the federal government’s backyard, it’s going to be increasingly difficult for national politicians to continue ignoring the growing majority of voters who want to end prohibition.”

“I’ve been saying for a while that 2016 presidential candidates need to start courting the cannabis constituency,” he added. “Now the road to the White House quite literally travels through legal marijuana territory.”

Now that voters have approved the measure, the bill moves to Congress for a mandatory review period by lawmakers in January. Congress has 60 days to review all new laws in the District, and if there is no interference the measure could go into effect in early 2015. However, Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) has vowed to put a stop to the progression of the bill in Congress.

“I would hope that the D.C. residents would turn down legalization,” Harris said in August, according to Politico. “If they don’t, I think that Congress will have an opportunity next year to comment on it, both through the normal authorization process or through appropriations if necessary.”

Harris is just one congressman, but he may be able to gather more support if “thousands of ecstatic stoners spark up on the streets tonight” as Mother Jones puts it, something many advocates fear could happen.

Along with the District, 23 states have legalized marijuana for medical purposes, and in 2012 Colorado and Washington state became the first states to legalize recreational marijuana. Two new government forecasts project that the two states could generate more than $800 million in revenue from marijuana sales in the next several years.

The plant remains banned by the federal government, which classifies marijuana as a Schedule I substance, along with heroin and LSD.

The District wasn’t alone on Tuesday in considering the legalization of marijuana. Florida voters rejected a measure that would have legalized medical marijuana. Voters in Oregon and Alaska were also considering legalizing recreational cannabis.

This post has been updated to include the congressional review process for laws in the District.

Marijuana legalization could be drawn out by D.C. Council

D.C. voters are likely to legalize marijuana possession in the District next month. But it could be many more months, perhaps a year or more, before residents would be able to legally purchase non-medicinal marijuana.

And in the interim, the organizers of the ballot initiative — which is supported by nearly two-thirds of likely voters, according to recent polls — are warning lawmakers not to delay its basic provisions of the voter initiative, which would allow the possession of up to two ounces of marijuana and the home cultivation of as many as six cannabis plants.

But D.C. Council members — who have the power to modify the initiative, delay it or overturn it entirely — appear determined to move forward carefully, in keeping with their previous efforts to implement a medical-marijuana initiative.

“I don’t want uncertainty to be out there in the streets and in the market, and the initiative as it is written doesn’t give us the certainty we need,” said David Grosso (I-At Large), who is perhaps the council’s most outspoken advocate of legalization. “It may be easier to just delay the whole thing while we come up with the regulatory framework.”

Grosso, who introduced a bill more than a year ago establishing a possible framework for the regulation and taxation of marijuana sales, said if the initiative passes, the council should step in and delay its effect until a regulatory regime can be rolled out.

The coalition of activists who are promoting the ballot measure, known as Initiative 71, is pushing back at any suggestion of delay, however. The activists concede that developing a system of regulation and taxation may take time to develop but say that that shouldn’t forestall the legalization of possession and home cultivation.

Two D.C. Council committees have scheduled a hearing for Oct. 30 to start exploring how to manage the post-initiative landscape. Vincent B. Orange (D-At Large), the chairman of one of the committees, said he has started researching aspects of the legalization measures in Colorado and Washington state.

Grosso’s bill, as introduced, would levy a 15 percent tax on the gross sales of non-medical marijuana and 6 percent on medical marijuana. Those funds, as well as fees charged to cultivators and retailers, would be earmarked to a variety of agencies and programs, including police training, youth programs and efforts to combat substance abuse.

More here

D.C.-Council Votes To Further Change City’s Marijuana Laws

With marijuana possession decriminalized to nothing more than a simple fine if you’re caught with an ounce or less, the lingering questions is: what becomes of those with marijuana charges on their record before the law came into effect?

Under a bill Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large) introduced last fall, the criminal records for District residents convicted of non-violent marijuana-related crimes would be sealed. During today’s legislative meeting, Grosso’s bill unanimously passed the first vote on the bill.
“Our criminal justice system has relied on vengeance and punishment,” Gross said during a brief reading of the bill before it came to vote. He explained how this bill is a step in the right direction for expunging the records of those whose lives have been made harder because of a non-violent marijuana-related drug charge. Thus, all those with minor, non-violent marijuana charges on their record can have their court records sealed for good.

The bill applies to “residents with a non-violent misdemeanor or felony possession of marijuana as their only prior criminal history,” according to Grosso’s office. This could apply to 20,000 people arrested over a 10-year period.

Additionally, the Council also voted to approve a bill to permanently change the District’s medical marijuana laws. In August, Mayor Vince Gray quietly signed temporary legislation into law that allows doctors to prescribe medical marijuana to patients as they see fit, rather than limiting it to a short list of qualifying conditions. The Council voted to make the temporary bill permanent.

Of course, D.C.’s marijuana laws could be radically changed come November, as residents will be able to vote on a ballot initiative—Initiative 71—that would legalize the possession, consumption, and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana.

House Republicans may have inadvertently Legalized cannabis in D.C.

By Andy Cush

In an effort to block Washington, D.C. from decriminalizing pot possession — a law it passed on its own back in March — House Republicans led by Maryland Rep. Andy Harris may have accidentally legalized it.

Congress, as you may recall, has the D.C. government under its thumb, and may intervene whenever it feels like if the district does something it doesn’t approve of. In this case, the city made possession of up to an ounce of pot punishable only by a $25 fine, and Harris amended a spending bill to forbid the city from spending money to “enact or carry out any law, rule, or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce penalties associated with the possession, use, or distribution [of marijuana and other drugs] for recreational use.”

The hole in Harris’s scheme, as laid out by the Washington Post, is that the pot law will likely go into effect sometime next month, before the bill and its Senate companion have a chance to be voted in. And if the Harris amendment does pass, D.C. will be left with a law that decriminalizes pot with no money behind it to fund going after defenders.

From the Post:

But the officials familiar with the matter said the amendment could prevent the police department from printing citations, prevent cops from writing and processing them, and prevent the city government from adjudicating them. The upshot is that there might be no penalty for minor marijuana possession, they said.
Pedro Ribeiro, a spokesman for D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, took the opportunity to jab at Congress for sticking its fingers in district affairs: “This potential unintended consequence only underscores why Congress should not meddle in local D.C. laws.”