Although medical marijuana retail outlets have only been open in the nation’s capital for less than two months, the D.C. Council is already considering legalization for recreational use. Last week, At-large Councilman David Grosso introduced legislation to legalize cannabis consumption and possession for adults over 21.
“Most people understand the role that marijuana has played in our community: Unlike what was touted for years during the ‘War on Drugs’ that it’s a gateway drug, really all marijuana’s been is a gateway to arrest and a lifetime of struggling with the justice system,” he says.
If the proposal becomes law, the legislation would levy a 10 percent tax on recreational cannabis and 6 percent on cannabis sold for medicinal use. It would give the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration authority to issue licenses to recreational cannabis outlets.
Grosso isn’t alone on the council in his push for reform. Councilman Tommy Wells, a Democratic candidate for mayor, introduced a bill in July that would decriminalize cannabis, reducing penalties for possession of up to an ounce of pot to a $100 fine. This is in contrast to the current punishment of up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
“Rest assured that folks are going to be pushing for my bill at any hearing on Wells’ bill,” Grosso says. “I think what will happen is Councilman Wells will have a hearing on decriminalization, and people will show up and say, ‘Hey, this doesn’t go far enough!’ and then I think it would be smart for them to move forward with my bill.”
Grosso says he supports the decriminalization bill, as does a majority of the council, but he believes it fails to address issues of violence and crime affiliated with the black market.
“There’s going to be an increase in demand with decriminalization, but there isn’t going to be anywhere safe for people to go purchase marijuana,” Grosso says. “They’re still going to be on the street corners; we’re still going to have problems with violence on the street, with people getting arrested for nonviolent offenses.”
Councilman Marion Barry, who co-sponsored the decriminalization bill, is “fully supportive” of cannabis legalization, Grosso said.
Grosso also introduced legislation that would automatically seal the criminal records of nonviolent cannabis offenses. That bill could be adopted on its own, or in conjunction with the decriminalization bill, he said.