District of Columbia: Voter-Approved Depenalization Plan To Become Law

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director February 25, 2015

    District of Columbia officials are moving forward with implementing a voter-approved initiative depenalizing offenses involving the personal possession and/or cultivation of cannabis by adults.

    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.

    35 responses to “District of Columbia: Voter-Approved Depenalization Plan To Become Law”

    1. mjavenger says:

      They may be successful, hope so, if the Congress goes after them, I would hope mpp or norml will step up and help keep them out of a federal prison.

      Very ballsy what they are doing.

    2. Trojan72 says:

      Excellent decision by the DC Mayor Bowser and other DC officials in implementing I-71, this is the will of the voters of D.C. and should be carried forth for the name of freedom and justice for all! Mayor Bowser your decision to implement the new law should become new order for all states to follow immediately. This will support the will of the people and ensure there will be no cartel in D.C. because there is no money to be made for the cartels in D.C. All of the other states should implement this as a new standard all across America. No more marijuana cartels in the USA. Thank you again, signed: Trojan72 from the BACKWARD STATE of GEORGIA. end prohibition AND put the cartels out OF business! period! Excellent Choice. Very Wise Choice.

    3. Galileo Galilei says:

      So we have a super-majority of black voters in DC telling some rich, powerful, sanctimonious white guy politician he can’t override their vote.

      This anarchy could spell the doom of Western civilization!!!!!!!

    4. Dave Evans says:

      Are Jason Chaffetz and Mark Meadows mentally handicapped? Seriously, the law was passed by voters with all the lawful restrictions preventing voters from passing laws that require spending. In no way shape or form is moving head with this statue a violation of the Spending Bill.

      Jason Chaffetz and Mark Meadows don’t even understand how the law works and yet, somehow, these morons were sent to Washington with the idea they will be writing laws. If these goons cannot understand so simple of an issue, how can they contribute to writing anything certain to be more complex???

    5. Nathaniel Grant says:

      No regulation is what Congress wanted? I have a sneaking suspicion when the contingent that was attempting to close implementation of this initiative down they thought they had won.
      I am pretty sure they did not foresee the mayor moving forward with a bare bones law.
      Must be tough to be stupid enough to think that when there is a resounding demand for change, by the constituents of the area, said voters would just let the powers that be dictate to them what was going to occur.
      Congress does have a few power-crazed representatives in their midst, but some must honestly believe their version of morality trumps the will of the people.

    6. jeff says:

      wow we vote for something an it happens… are we in America? Quick ring the liberty bell! So this is what freedom feels like. WHO WOULD DEBATE CANNABIS ISNT SAFE AN WILL CAUSE YOU TO GO CRAZY!??? no one can now DC is on board! NEXT WILL B CONTROLLED SUBSTANCE ACT TO CHANGE FOR THE BETTER!!!

    7. Evening Bud says:

      I can understand why Chaffetz (R-UT)and Meadows(R-NC)are so frightened about the possibility of depenalization in DC: they realize that it will eventually lead to . . . Benghazi! Oh, the humanity!

      Uh, like Chaffetz said, “We’re not playing a little game here!”

    8. JD says:


    9. phrtao says:

      Sounds like the prohibitionists (Chaffetz, Meadows et al) may try to put some one in jail over this. If it was as simple as that I am sure it would already have been done in Washington (state) or Colorado. Anyway 2 Republican members of congress have spoken up and will have to try something or effectively end their careers in politics. If that does happen it will all be resolved fairly soon but I cannot see legalisation being dismantled – far more likely is the end of federal prohibition. These 2 men may have done us a favour in speaking out in this way and making their threats.

    10. David Morgan says:

      If the Democrats were smart, they would get behind this issue and start initiatives in every state for the voter mobilization!