While Congress has prevented the District of Columbia from opening retail pot shops in the nation’s capital, a ruling handed down last month by a D.C. Superior Court judge allows District lawmakers to begin discussing the concept of recreational pot sales at the end of September.
Several weeks ago, Judge Brian Holeman delivered a historical verdict that upholds the District’s Local Budget Autonomy Act — passed in 2013 by 82 percent of the voters — allowing the local government to have complete control over their financial agenda.
Refusing “to interfere with that lawful delegation of authority and exercise of that delegated authority by the council, the mayor, and the citizens of the District of Columbia,” Judge Holeman’s verdict liberates the District from the clutches of Congressional rule, which was established in 1973 with the passing of the Home Rule Act. This will now allow city officials free reign to enact legislation aimed at establishing a tax and regulated marijuana trade as soon as the Harris rider expires in the fall.
It has been legal in the District for well over a year to cultivate, possess, and give away certain amounts of marijuana, as long as no money changes hands, but a rider attached to a federal spending bill has prevented the District from so much as drafting a measure to legalize the leaf for retail sale. Because of the bizarre nature of the law, residents have been forced to either grow their own supply, relay on the kindness of others, or purchase weed from the black market.
Statements made last year by D.C. Councilmember David Gross suggest that as soon as the council is legally permitted to enact a piece of legislation aimed at creating a taxed and regulated cannabis market, it plans to move forward with a bill called the Marijuana Legalization and Regulation Act. The proposal, which was introduced a few years ago by Grosso and three other members of the council, would combine the medical and recreational sectors into a single industry, imposing a tax of 15 percent on recreational pot and a 6 percent tax on the weed purchased by those with a physician recommendation.
There is a possibility that Congress may still try to block the District from legalizing retail sales, but policy experts say that will be much more difficult than simply tossing an appropriations rider into a federal spending bill. According to the Marijuana Policy Project, in order for Congress to further sabotage legal sales, they would first need to approve a joint resolution in both chambers and get President Obama to sign off on it.
“Thanks to congressional gridlock and President Obama’s support for D.C. choosing its own marijuana policy, this would be much more difficult than simply adding a rider to a lengthy appropriations bill funding the federal government,” the MPP wrote.
The nation’s capital has been the pinnacle of marijuana activism for the past several years. Most recently, hundreds of pot advocates marched a 50-foot inflatable joint to the White House, branded with the message, “Obama, Reschedule Cannabis Now.” The highly publicized protest was organized by the DC Cannabis Campaign, the masterminds behind the initiative that led to the District’s current state of legalization. Although it was predicted that hundreds of people would be arrested for participating in the event, reports indicate that only two people were cited for public consumption and no arrests were made.
Some of the latest data shows that a retail pot market in the District of Columbia stands to generate in upwards of $93 million in annual tax revenue. If all goes according to plan, retail pot sales could begin in late 2017.
Do you want to see retail cannabis sales in the nation’s capitol?