On Tuesday afternoon, the D.C. Council voted to permanently ban any social consumption of marijuana other than inside a private residence, despite a public forum being scheduled that evening to explore the merits of continuing the ban.
Among the concerns voiced by activists is that the ban forces people who live in public housing, where consuming marijuana can lead to eviction, to break the law by smoking in public. This policy predominantly impacts poor people of color in the District, and many residents think that allowing social use clubs would go a long way toward addressing this issue. There may be options to overturn the ban, however.
Numerous people brought up the racial disparity in marijuana-related arrests, which continues even in the era of decriminalization and legalization—81.9 percent of the 259 public consumption arrests from July 17, 2014 (when public consumption became a criminal offense) to the end of 2015 were of black people, according to data from the Drug Policy Alliance.
Kate Bell, an attorney for the Marijuana Policy Project, said that the ban isn’t the end of the road. “There are other avenues D.C. could explore,” she told DCist. “We’re not just talking about clubs. It’s a much broader issue.”
Nikolas Schiller of DCMJ has already written a draft referendum on the ban. But it’s an open question whether the referendum, if passed, could be implemented given the Congressional rider that hamstrings the city’s ability to regulate drug legalization. Bell says that MPP is working to ensure that the rider doesn’t appear in next year’s Congressional budget.
Residents can express their views at the ballot box. Information on registering to vote is available here, and if you are already registered you can update your information online here. Stay tuned: MPP will be publishing a voter guide before the June 14 primary election. Note that if you want to vote in a party’s primary election, you must be registered as a member of that party at least 30 days before the primary election.
Also, the Local Budget Autonomy Act may allow the District to tax and regulate marijuana using its own local funds this winter, after the new fiscal year begins. In addition, it is always possible for the mayor to use reserve funds to tax and regulate marijuana.
Finally, MPP will be attending the National Cannabis Festival on Saturday; stop by our booth and say hello if you are there.