LANHAM, Md. (WNEW) — D.C. is now on the list of U.S. jurisdictions — along with Alaska, Oregon, Washington state and Colorado — where voters have passed marijuana legalization bills.
But although Initiative 71 passed overwhelmingly in the District on Nov. 4, that doesn’t mean having a little bit of pot in your pocket is allowed. Not yet, anyway.
The D.C. bill, which slightly more than 64 percent of city voters were in favor of, would allow Washingtonians to possess up to two ounces of pot for their own use and grow no more than six cannabis plants in their home with three or fewer being mature and flowering at one time. The new laws would not apply to federal property, however. It wouldn’t be legal to have marijuana on the National Mall, for instance.
Since D.C. laws must be approved by Congress before they can go into effect, the statute is not set in stone. It could still be overturned. To do that, Congress and the President would have to agree on a resolution of disapproval.
Republicans will be in control of both the House and the Senate starting next year, so there is a better chance that Capitol Hill will try to block the measure, WNEW D.C. Bureau Chief Matt DelSignore reports. It is not likely that President Barack Obama would be in favor blocking the bill, but Congress does have ways of delaying bills that they don’t want to sign off on.
For example, medical marijuana was passed by D.C. voters via a 1998 ballot initiative. It took 11 years for it to make it past the Hill.
And at least one congressman, a Republican from neighboring Maryland, has already said he will try to block legalization in D.C., just as he tried to block decriminalization earlier this year.
D.C.’s decriminalization bill did end up making it through Congress, however, allowing it to become law as it stands today. Possession of an ounce or less of marijuana, which had previously carried a penalty of up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine, is no longer a criminal offense in the District. Now it’s a civil offense punishable by a fine of just $25.
Even though Rep. Andy Harris’s attempts to keep pot possession as a criminal offense in the District failed, it’s hard to say if he will get more support in his efforts against full-out legalization.
Despite all the uncertainties clouding Initiative 71’s future, D.C. lawmakers are doing their best to prepare for what may come.
A recent D.C. Council hearing focused on how to prepare for the sale and taxation of pot in D.C. and how much an industry built around the drug could be worth.
Currently, a bill in the D.C. Council chambers is preparing to set up the D.C. marijuana marketplace that would regulate marijuana through the same body that regulates alcohol sales. The current proposal sets a 15 percent sales tax.
Sales of marijuana and related products could become a $130 million a year industry, according to the District’s Chief Financial Officer. The office projects the average marijuana customer would buy three ounces of pot a year at $350 an ounce.
Pot has the potential to create lots of jobs in D.C., but that probably wouldn’t happen fast. Interference from Congress notwithstanding, the rules would need a lot of fine-tuning followed by training for regulators.
Not everyone in the District is on board with legalization, of course.
Will Jones is a resident who is affiliated with the marijuana opposition group “Two is Enough,” which has been fighting D.C.’s marijuana-legalization efforts.
“We already have more liquor stores in our neighborhoods on the corners,” Jones says.
“We have more tobacco advertising targeted towards us and can’t afford to have a third legal recreational drug out there and that’s unfortunately now what we’re going to see. Another thing that I’m really concerned that we’re going to see is an increase in youth use and an adult addiction as well.”
Part of the argument for legalizing marijuana was that the legal consequences would be taken out of the picture. African-American marijuana arrests outnumber white Washingtonians by an 8-to-1 ratio.
Jones says legalization is not the answer but rather changing law enforcement practices.