Washington D.C. Mayor Unveils Plan to Legalize Cannabis Sales

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May 3, 2019

By Jim Roberts

The nation’s capital has one of the more unusual approaches to marijuana legalization in the nation. After a 2014 ballot initiative, D.C. residents over 21 were allowed to possess marijuana, grow it and give it as a gift.

But the measure had no provision for legal sales, creating the unusual situation where you could own it, smoke it, gift it … but not buy it.

D.C. Mayor Murial Bowser wants to change that. This week she unveiled a sweeping measure to legalize adult-use retail sales and use tax proceeds from those sales to fund housing preservation and other programs in low-income neighborhoods.

“I feel very strongly that, to have a safe purchase, and safe neighborhoods, the commercialization of recreational marijuana -- the time is now,” she told Cheddar’s J.D. Durkin.

The mayor’s proposal, which is titled the Safe Cannabis Sales Act of 2019, could set up a big battle with the federal government, assuming that it’s approved by the City Council. Because Washington, D.C., isn’t a state, it falls under the governance of Congress.

And Congress has specifically prohibited Washington from enacting any measures to tax or regulate marijuana sales.

Bowser said she’s hopeful the federal government won’t meddle in the city’s affairs. “We have a lot of allies in Congress,” she said.

“We’re seeing a change really coming over the nation and among policy makers” with regard to cannabis use, according to Bowser. “It’s the best role of government to regulate it and make it safe.”

Under the Mayor’s proposal marijuana sales would be taxed at 17 percent. Home deliveries of weed would be allowed in the district, but consumption would not be allowed at rooftop bars, sidewalk patios or at other private businesses.

The bill also specifies that 60 percent of the owners and employees of new marijuana businesses be D.C. residents.

The measure "will allow us to put together a regime, much like we do with alcohol sales," she said. "Our alcohol beverage administration will take over the regulation of cannabis in the city. So we will know what our business are doing; they will be paying taxes. We will require D.C. residents to be part of the businesses and the work force."

Maryland Rep. Andy Harris, who made the push to block D.C. from legalizing marijuana sales, criticized the mayor’s proposal. In a statement, he said, “Mayor Bowser should respect the Constitution, which gives Congress absolute authority over the District of Columbia, and discontinue her efforts to legalize marijuana in violation of the law.”

Phil Mendelson, the chairman of the D.C. City Council, said he would schedule hearings on Mayor Bowser’s bill, beginning a legislative process that could take a year or more. But the mayor and other officials know they’ll have to wait for Congress to lift its restrictions before taking a final vote.