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Expect a ‘tax-and-regulate’ proposal for marijuana in D.C. next year, Bowser says

Curbed logo Curbed 11/7/2018 Andrew Giambrone
a close up of a logo: A cannabis flag outside the U.S. Capitol at a 2017 protest© CQ-Roll Call,Inc. A cannabis flag outside the U.S. Capitol at a 2017 protest

The mayor and other District leaders have high hopes for the Democrat-controlled House

House Republicans aren’t the only ones who woke up in a haze on Wednesday. Two top D.C. elected officials say they will work to overturn current restrictions on the sale of recreational marijuana in the District by taking advantage of the Democrats’ new House majority in 2019.

At a post-election press conference, Mayor Muriel Bowser said she would introduce a “tax-and-regulate” bill for legal weed to the D.C. Council next year. She did not provide specifics about what such a proposal would include, but called the status quo in the District—where it is legal to possess and use small amounts of recreational pot, yet not buy it—“untenable.”

“I believe [the situation] makes us unsafe,” Bowser said, without offering further explanation. Initiative 71, a widely supported 2014 ballot measure, allowed adults 21 and older to possess up to two ounces of marijuana, grow no more than six marijuana plants at home, and gift up to one ounce of marijuana to other adults. Under the law, no money, goods, or services may be exchanged for weed. Adults, moreover, are barred from consuming it on public property.

After the initiative passed, House Republicans blocked the District from spending any local funds on regulating marijuana. Since 2015, they have included anti-pot prohibitions, known as budget “riders,” in the annual House appropriations bill. This has led to a gray market for weed in D.C., where vendors have sought to sidestep the law. Congress carries this kind of authority over the District, but not states, and has often used riders to limit local decisions.

The Council is likely to be receptive to Bowser’s eventual proposal and seek to implement the intent of Initiative 71. David Grosso, an at-large councilmember, has repeatedly drawn up bills to create regulations for pot sales. A 2016 study by the Tax Foundation found that the District could raise over $10 million a year from such sales, depending on the tax rate.

Like Bowser, D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton—who lacks a floor vote in the House—wants to get rid of the congressional marijuana rider, among others. Following Democrats’ flip of the House, Norton said in a statement on Wednesday that she would “continue to fight to remove” this rider and another one that prevents the District from spending local funds on abortions for low-income women. She called for “equal citizenship and statehood” for D.C.

The possession, sale, and use of marijuana also remains illegal under federal law, meaning that people cannot use or exchange weed on federal land in D.C., including national parks. Medical weed is already legal in the District, with cards given out by the health department.

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