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DC Activists Prepare For Marijuana Legalization To Take Effect
Matt Cohen ~ DCist
By all accounts, marijuana legalization will take effect at the end of this week. At least, that's what Adam Eidinger is expecting.
"Really we have to wait for the D.C. Register to have it published as a law," says Eidinger, who chairs the D.C. Cannabis Campaign—the grassroots organization responsible for getting Initiative 71 on the November ballot. "Though once that happens I would think the Republicans will jump on that."
Ever since Initiative 71—which will allow District residents to legally possess up to two ounces of marijuana—was overwhelmingly passed through a voter initiative, lawmakers and residents alike have feared that some members of Congress would prevent it from taking effect, as they're wont to do. There was even that rider in the House Appropriations Committee's $1.1 trillion spending bill barring the District from implementing marijuana legalization.
But the legislation was submitted to Congress for the 30-day review period and it's looking like it'll pass, which begs the question: what happened?
In his budget plan proposal, President Barack Obama sneakily backed pot legalization and a controversial abortion law with the inclusion of just one word. But it wasn't Obama who saved Initiative 71 (after all, that was just a proposal), D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton says that "unless a resolution of disapproval overturning it is enacted during that period or other legislation is enacted before, during or after that period that blocks or overturns it." Nothing like that has happened.
Furthermore, House Republicans all but gave up on preventing Initiative 71 from taking effect and instead focused their efforts on preventing the District from setting up any sort of legislation to tax and regulate the sale of marijuana in the same vein as alcohol. In fact, a planned public hearing on a proposed marijuana tax and regulate bill was downgraded after warnings from D.C. attorney general Karl Racine, who wrote in a letter to the Council that holding the hearing would "violate a spending probation."
But the future of marijuana legalization in the District isn't of high concern for Eidinger and the Cannabis Campaign. "We've won the Initiative, we won legalization without commercialization," he says. In addition to possession, Initiative 71 allows for the home cultivation of marijuana, along with allowing to trade it with other pot users.
Next weekend, D.C. play host to its first marijuana-related convention since Initiative 71 passed. The ComfyTree Cannabis Academy, Grow School and Job Fair, which is sponsored by the Michigan-based marijuana education company, will take place at the Holiday Inn at Capitol Hill on Saturday and Sunday. Throughout the weekend, speakers—which include Eidinger and Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large)—will discuss growing and policy tips and advice.
But a big part of the conference also includes other speakers who will give "expert advice on getting into the canna-business." As far as Initiative 71 goes, the sale of marijuana is not permitted, which leaves a lot of questions, Grosso, who first introduced a proper tax and regulate bill, tells the Post.
Grosso said he met with Bowser on Friday and raised a host of concerns about what happens at the end of the month. “For one, I asked what happens when a restaurant or a club has a smoking section outdoor and people light up? Do you arrest them? . . . I didn’t get an answer to that question.”
Other questions: What happens when someone who lives in federal public housing in the District lights up? Under current federal law, residents can lose their housing for a single drug violation. And, has there been any coordination, he asked, with the District’s many federal law enforcement agencies? Marijuana possession will remain punishable by up to a year in jail if found on someone on the Mall, in Rock Creek Park or in almost any city traffic circle, since they are the provinces of the U.S. Park Police and others.
Eidinger says he has a solution for local lawmakers to skirt the tax and regulation problem that Congress is hung up on preventing: Make medical marijuana that much easier for residents to obtain. "That's Muriel Bowser's secret weapon that she has to make this all work out," Eidinger says. "She could simply tell the Department of Health 'I'd like you to propagate new rules that say recommendations for cannabis are only needed for people under 21.'"
Currently, D.C.'s medical marijuana laws have established a proper taxation and regulation system, with a few grow centers already growing and selling medical pot. Though the District recently made it easier for anyone to get a doctor recommendation for medical marijuana, it's still not as liberal a program as California's program.
Still, marijuana legalization is set to take effect soon, which, in and of itself, is a huge deal for the city. Whatever the future may hold for marijuana policy in the District, the Cannabis Campaign will celebrate their victory. In their homes, without any exchange of money, as the law states.