The new law is set to take effect Thursday, February 26, at 12:01am. In a press release issued Tuesday, District officials — including Mayor Muriel Bowser and Police Chief Cathy Lanier — reaffirmed their intent to recognize the will of District voters, 70 percent of whom voted in favor of the municipal measure (I-71).
“In November, residents of the District of Columbia voted to legalize small amounts of marijuana by adults for personal, in-home use in the District,” said Mayor Bowser. “We will uphold the letter and the spirit of the initiative that was passed last year, and we will establish the Initiative 71 Task Force to coordinate our enforcement, awareness and engagement efforts and address policy questions as they arise.”
Initiative 71 permits adults to possess up to two ounces of marijuana and to cultivate up to six marijuana plants (no more than three mature at any one time) in one’s primary residence without facing any criminal or civil penalty. Not-for-profit transactions involving small amounts of the substance are also permitted; however, for-profit sales are prohibited as is the retail production or distribution of the plant.
The consumption of cannabis in public or on federal property also remains prohibited.
District officials contend that they possess the legal authority to depenalize minor marijuana offenses despite the passage of a federal spending provision in December prohibiting the District from spending any tax dollars to implement the new law. They argue that the municipal measure took effect upon passage in November and that Congress failed to take any explicit action to overturn the law during its requisite 30-day review period. (This Congressional review period is mandated law before any new District legislation may be imposed.)
District officials’ stance is not without some vocal critics. Earlier this week, two Republican members of Congress sent a letter to DC’s Mayor warning that Congress may take action if I-71 is enforced.
“If you decide to move forward … with the legalization of marijuana in the District, you will be doing so in knowing and willful violation of the law,” reads the letter signed by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) and Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), chairman of the subcommittee that handles DC affairs.
In an interview with The Washington Post, Rep. Chaffetz threatened Mayor Bowser and city officials, stating, “[If District officials are] under any illusion that this would be legal, they are wrong. And there are very severe consequences for violating this provision. You can go to prison for this. We’re not playing a little game here.”
To date, neither spokespersons for the Mayor’s office and/or the DC City Council have responded directly to the Congressmen nor have they indicated that they intend to reconsider their decision to implement I-71 as voters intended.
Fifty-three percent of Alaska voters approved Ballot Measure 2 on Election Day, permitting those over the age of 21 to lawfully possess up to one ounce of marijuana and/or to grow up to six marijuana plants (no more than three mature) for non-commercial purposes. Sharing or gifting personal use quantities of marijuana is also permitted under the new law; however the consumption of cannabis in public remains an offense.
Lawmakers will now begin the process of establishing licensing requirements for those who wish to commercially produce cannabis and/or engage in the plant’s retail sale. State regulators have up to nine months to enact rules to govern these commercial entities and are expected to begin granting operator permits by February 2016.
Since 1975, Alaskans have enjoyed personal privacy protections based on a state Supreme Court decision allowing for the possession and cultivation of personal use amounts of cannabis in one’s home. However, state lawmakers had never before codified these protections into law or permitted a legal market for marijuana production and sales.
Alaska is the third state – following Colorado and Washington – to legalize the personal possession of marijuana by adults and to license the plant’s retail production and sales. Oregon voters in November approved similar legislation (Measure 91), which is scheduled to go into effect later this year.
The drug warriors — led principally by law enforcement and their handmaidens in the state legislatures — continue to do everything within their power to prolong marijuana prohibition, even in those states in which the voters have approved full legalization.
I am referring specifically to a legislative proposal introduced last week in the Alaska state legislature, allegedly to implement their recent legalization initiative, under which possession of one ounce of marijuana and the private cultivation of six plants was legalized for everyone over 21 years of age. Recreational marijuana use will be totally decriminalized effective February 24, although the state has until the end of the year to implement the regulations for licensing recreational growers and dispensaries.
Senate Bill 30, and it’s House companion bill, HB 79, initially considered by the House and Senate Judiciary Committees last week, would have kept any amount of marijuana illegal, causing users to be arrested and brought to trial, when they could then raise an affirmative defense by proving they were over 21 and their conduct was protected under the new initiative.
To read the balance of this column, please go to Marijuana.com.
You don’t have to look too hard to see marijuana legalization efforts in several states that have a good chance of being approved by the voters in 2016. But many of those efforts are mired-down with competing proposals and competing proponents that could easily undermine the ability of supporters in those states to actually change public policy and end prohibition.
The inability to accept compromise in the interest of building a winning coalition threatens to turn some of these political opportunities into losing efforts. And that would be a disaster.
Specifically, different factions with different political demands are competing for control of the issue in Massachusetts, Ohio and California, three large and important states that would add enormous legitimacy and political credibility to the legalization movement, were they to approve legalization in 2016.
District of Columbia city officials this week moved forward with their intentions to implement a voter-approved municipal initiative depenalizing marijuana possession and cultivation offenses.
On Tuesday, city officials confirmed that Initiative 71 was transmitted to Congress for review. Under federal law, all District laws are subject to a 30-day review process by Congress, during which time members may take action to halt the law’s implementation.
Speaking to Roll Call this week, House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said that language previously adopted by Congress in a December 2014 spending bill already prohibits DC officials from implementing I-71 and, thus, no further action by Congress is necessary. However, several District officials – including DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson – said that the federal provision in question in no way blocks city officials from enacting the new law.
“The District’s examination agrees with our analysis that the initiative was enacted when voters approved it and will take effect at the end of the 30-day congressional review period,” Del. Norton said in a statement.
Chairman Mendelson agreed, saying, “I happen to believe that the initiative was enacted so I think there’s no question that after the 30-day review it will be law.”
The District of Columbia Attorney General’s office has not yet commented in regard to how the District will respond if Congress does not address the initiative during the review process, Roll Call reported.
In November, 70 percent of District voters approved I-71, which removes criminal and civil penalties regarding the adult possession of up to two ounces of cannabis and/or the cultivation of up to six plants.
Separate DC municipal legislation – ‘The Marijuana Legalization and regulation Act’ – which seeks to regulate commercial cannabis production and retail sales, is also pending before the Council. If enacted, this legislation would also go before lawmakers for Congressional review and likely would force a federal challenge.