Washington, D.C. Mayor Signs Medical Pot Bill

The recently passed bill, called the Medical Cannabis Amendment Act of 2022 (B24-0113), was sponsored by Chairman Phil Mendelson of the Washington, D.C. Council in February 2021. The Washington, D.C. Council voted unanimously to pass on Dec. 20, 2022, followed by Bowser signing the bill on Jan. 30, just two days before a response was due on Feb. 1.

The bill expands the capital’s medical cannabis program in many ways, including lifting the cap on dispensaries, creating new license types, and codifies emergency measures passed in 2021 and 2022.

Originally the amendment proposed implementing an increased cap on dispensaries, but was later revised to include no maximum number (although the Alcoholic Beverage and Cannabis Board is given the power to establish a cap one year from the passage of the bill in January 2024).

It also authorizes the creation of more cannabis license types, including cannabis delivery services, online sales, educational programs, and areas dedicated to cannabis consumption. “At least half” of all licenses given to currently unlicensed businesses will be given to social equity applicants (defined as those who are D.C. residents with low income, have spent time in prison for cannabis-related charges, or are related to someone who was affected by the War on Drugs).

Medical cannabis was legalized in Washington D.C. in 2010, and an attempt to legalize adult-use cannabis was passed by voters in 2014 through Initiative 71. While it allows possess of up to two ounces of cannabis and home cultivation, it also allows adults to gift up to one ounce of weed to another adult, which created the loophole of gifting (or a way to get around cannabis sale restrictions by selling merch or apparel with a gift of cannabis for free). The Medical Cannabis Amendment Act of 2022 seeks to target those unlicensed businesses, giving them a path to obtain a legal license.

The act also codifies emergency measures that were implemented for cannabis. This includes the emergency measure that provides support for Washington, D.C. patients with expired cards and help struggling dispensaries as well, which was passed in November 2021. In July 2022, Bowser signed a bill allowing adults to self-certify themselves as medical cannabis patients.

Overall, enforcement action related to these changes won’t be implemented until 315 days have passed since the signing of the bill, which would be later this year in December. It also needs congressional review before officially taking effect.

Also recently in Washington, D.C., Mendelson the Second Chance Amendment Act of 2021 (B24-0063) is under congressional review. This would implement automatic expungement through “automatic sealing for non-dangerous, non-convictions as well as shorten the waiting periods before a person is eligible to seal their record. It would also expand the eligibility of who can seal their record.” All expungements would need to be processed before Jan. 1, 2025. If congress doesn’t make a move against the bill, its projected law date is set for March 16, 2023.

Mendelson also recently introduced another bill (B25-0052) on Jan. 19, which aims to legalize adult-use cannabis sales. The proposal includes a “Reparations for Victims of the War on Cannabis Fund,” which would offer anywhere between $5,000 to $80,000 to pay those who were negatively affected by cannabis criminalization. It also includes a “Cannabis Equity and Opportunity Fund,” which would gather up 40% of revenue to go toward loans or grants for applicants affected by criminalization. Additionally, the bill details a plan to reinvest cannabis tax revenue into community services such as mental health treatments and youth development.

The post Washington, D.C. Mayor Signs Medical Pot Bill appeared first on High Times.

Washington, D.C. Passes Bill To Expand Medical Weed Sales

Local lawmakers in Washington, D.C. last week passed legislation to expand medical marijuana sales, giving the city’s popular but unlicensed weed gifting shops a path to the regulated market. The bill, which was approved by the D.C. district council on December 20, comes after Congress included an existing prohibition on regulated adult-use cannabis sales in the nation’s capital as part of a spending bill approved last week.

The bill significantly expands Washington, D.C.’s medical marijuana program, lifting a cap on dispensaries and increasing the number of authorized cultivation facilities. The legislation also creates licenses for new types of cannabis businesses, including marijuana delivery services, online sales, educational programs such as cooking classes, and cannabis consumption areas at dispensaries. Half of the new licenses will be reserved for social equity applicants, which are defined as D.C. residents who have a low income, have spent time in prison, or are related to someone who was incarcerated for a cannabis or drug-related offense.

Bill Addresses D.C.’s Weed Gifting Shops

The legislation is designed to address the vast unregulated market for cannabis in Washington, D.C., where medical marijuana was legalized by local lawmakers in 2010. In 2014, voters approved Initiative 71, a ballot measure to legalize recreational marijuana. Under the measure, adults can possess up to two ounces of marijuana, are permitted to grow cannabis at home, and may gift up to one ounce of weed to another adult. However, Congress, which has control over the Washington, D.C. budget, has refused to allow the city to spend money on regulating recreational marijuana sales.

The situation has led to dozens of businesses that take advantage of the gifting provision of I-71 to distribute cannabis openly from storefront businesses. Under the common scheme, businesses sell benign merchandise such as apparel or art, offering what is ostensibly a free gift of marijuana with the purchase. Phil Mendelson, the Chairman of the Council of the District of Columbia, estimates the unregulated marijuana market in the nation’s capital is worth as much as $600 million per year. 

“There’s always going to be an advantage to unlicensed and unregulated: they don’t have to pay taxes, they don’t have to ensure quality,” Mendelson said in an interview with DCist/WAMU. “Congress is aiding and abetting that by prohibiting us from regulating that. It’s a real public safety problem,” he said.

Patients Can Self-Certify To Use Medical Marijuana

The legislation passed last week also makes permanent an emergency measure passed earlier this year that allows adults to certify their own eligibility to use medical marijuana, eliminating a previous provision that required certification by a licensed physician. At the time, Mendelson and some members also attempted to enact prohibitions on the gifting industry but faced opposition from a group of business owners. Legalizing the shops so they could be regulated was not possible under the congressional ban, making allowing gifting businesses a path to the medical marijuana market an option popular with a majority of the district council.

“It’s going to allow the District to be a lot healthier on the cannabis side,” Terrence White, chairman of a group known as the i-71 Committee and a gifting shop owner, told the Washington Post. “It’s going to allow us to be doing it ‘right,’ as I call it.”

The bill passed by the council last week gives existing operators 90 days to apply for a medical marijuana retailer license and prevents enforcement against gifting shops for at least 315 days after the legislation goes into effect. David Grosso, a former council member and current lobbyist for the D.C. Cannabis Trade Association, a group representing licensed medical marijuana operators, said that the bill is a positive development for the industry.

“We certainly would like to see a level playing field across the board, and that hasn’t been the case for as long as the [Initiative 71] folks have been operating illegally. And so we’re hopeful that this effort will bring them into the legal market and then treat them equally with us,” said Grosso. “And that means all the regulations that come with it, the fees that you have to pay, the inspections you have to endure, all of the restrictions around where you can locate, and everything like that which the current legal market has had to deal with now for more than ten years, which is a huge burden on us.”

Norbert Pickett, the owner of Cannabliss, one of the seven licensed medical dispensaries located in the nation’s capital, agreed, saying that the legislation is an opportunity to expand Washington, D.C.’s medical marijuana market and provide new options for patients.

“It gives patients more access to safe and tested cannabis,” he said. “It unifies unregulated market and the legal market. For me, that’s a win.”

Mackenzie Mann, project manager for the gifting industry trade group Generational Equity Movement, said that the legislation from the district council is a drastic change for Washington, D.C.’s cannabis landscape.

“It’s surreal,” Mann said. “A year ago, they were trying to shut us down.”

The post Washington, D.C. Passes Bill To Expand Medical Weed Sales appeared first on High Times.

D.C. City Council Rejects Proposal To Penalize ‘Gifting’ Shops

A bill that sought to levy harsh fines on businesses in Washington, D.C. that engage in the practice of “gifting” –– whereby a retailer sells a product or good to customer that is accompanied by a “gift” of cannabis –– failed to advance within the district’s city council on Tuesday.

The emergency legislation would have “created fines of $30,000 for shops caught gifting marijuana to customers and allowed D.C. residents over 21 to purchase medical marijuana without seeing a doctor first and simply self-attesting to their medical need,” according to NBC Washington.

Local television station WTOP reported that the “council voted 8-5 in favor of the bill, but because it was emergency legislation, it needed nine votes to advance.”

The bill was pushed by Phil Mendelson, the chairman of the D.C. Council, who called for an emergency vote on the legislation last week.

Mendelson says that the widespread practice of “gifting” has undermined the district’s medical cannabis establishments, with patients opting to procure weed via illicit means instead of through the regulated channels. As such, the bill would have nixed the requirement to see a doctor prior to buying medical cannabis.

“The medical side are struggling on the brink of existence, while the illegal side has only grown more rapidly,” Mendelson, a Democrat, said, as quoted by the Washington Post.

The Post said that the bill “had alarmed many of the proprietors and patrons of those [gifting] shops, which faced steep civil fines under the proposed legislation that they said could have put them out of business.”

Some owners of those establishments said that the bill would have had a devastating economic impact on the city.

“If the legislation passed today, it would put hundreds if not thousands of people out of work,” said Derek Dawson, a proprietor of one of the gifting shops, as quoted by NBC Washington. “Sixty percent of the people who are involved in the industry are either Black or Hispanic, and so like the people of color have found a way to find social equity in this market,”

As business owners like Dawson see it, the initiative passed by a majority of D.C. voters in 2014 that legalized recreational pot use gave them the right to “gift” weed to customers.

Complicating matters is Congress, which oversees all laws in the nations’ capital. And since 2014, every congressional spending bill has included a provision that has barred Washington, D.C. from commercializing cannabis.

There was hope among cannabis reform advocates that the current Democratic-led Congress would scrap that provision, known as the “Harris Rider,” named for its author Republican Congressman Andy Harris of Maryland.

Those hopes were bolstered in the fall, when Senate Democrats unveiled a draft of an appropriations bill that notably did not include the Harris Rider, a development that was applauded by Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser.

“The Senate appropriations bill is a critical step in recognizing that in a democracy, D.C. residents should be governed by D.C. values,” the mayor’s office said in a statement at the time. “As we continue on the path to D.C. statehood, I want to thank Senate Appropriations Committee Chair, Senator Patrick Leahy, our good friend and Subcommittee Chair, Senator Chris Van Hollen, and, of course, our champion on the Hill, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, for recognizing and advancing the will of D.C. voters. We urge Congress to pass a final spending bill that similarly removes all anti-Home Rule riders, allowing D.C. to spend our local funds as we see fit.”

But the optimism fizzled out last month, when Democrats released a new appropriations bill that did include the rider.

The post D.C. City Council Rejects Proposal To Penalize ‘Gifting’ Shops appeared first on High Times.

Emergency Vote in DC on Cannabis Gifting Services Scheduled for Tomorrow

Cannabis gifting storefronts and delivery services in Washington, DC are bracing themselves today for a DC City Council emergency vote scheduled for tomorrow, April 5, 2022, that could drive them back underground.

Initiative 71 legalized cannabis for recreational use in DC in 2014, with 64.87% of voters approving the measure. However, DC’s lack of statehood means that the city budget has to be approved by Congress — and immediately following the passage of the initiative, Maryland Republican Rep. Andy Harris introduced an amendment to the bill known as the Harris Rider that has effectively allowed Congress to block the city government from legalizing commercial adult-use sales.

Residents of DC are currently allowed to possess up to two ounces of cannabis, grow up to six plants, and gift up to an ounce to other adults, but commercial sales remain banned due to the Harris Rider. Over the last several years, this has led to a “gifting economy,” a creative workaround in which customers purchase an item such as a T-shirt, digital artwork, gym membership or other product and receive a cannabis gift in exchange.

This has led to some tension between medical cannabis dispensary owners and the folks running gifting services. It’s also attracted the ire of DC City Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, who has attempted to take action against I-71 gifting shops several times.

Last year, Mendelson introduced an emergency bill to empower city agencies to engage in “revocation of licenses, sealing of premises, and fines for businesses purchasing, selling or exchanging marijuana.” The language in the bill that would have increased enforcement on gifting businesses, including a fine of up to $30,000, was removed one day ahead of the vote.

Now Mendelson has revived the fight, calling for an emergency vote tomorrow that would allow the city to close down gifting businesses starting in mid-May, while also eliminating the need for a doctor’s recommendation for anyone procuring medical cannabis from DC dispensaries by self-certifying their medical use. This move is supported by many medical cannabis dispensary owners, who complain that they’re losing business to gifting stores, which operate in a gray area of the law due to the Harris Rider.

A resolution from Mendelson’s office, reported by DCist.com, declares that “Several dozen illegal cannabis businesses are currently operating in the District. These businesses … do not pay the fees and taxes licensed facilities must pay, putting licensed cannabis businesses at a competitive disadvantage.”

Under I-71, DC residents can grow up to six plants for personal use and gifting — but home growers accused of running an illegal service could be fined $30,000 and locked out of their residence for 96 hours.

DC residents can contact council members to let them know they don’t want their taxes being used to shut down cannabis gifting stores. The vote is scheduled for tomorrow’s legislative session.

The post Emergency Vote in DC on Cannabis Gifting Services Scheduled for Tomorrow appeared first on High Times.

D.C. Council Chair Rips Congress For Maintaining Ban On Weed Sales

A top Washington, D.C. lawmaker is unhappy with Capitol Hill after Congressional leaders last week decided against removing a ban on recreational cannabis sales in the nation’s capital.

Phil Mendelson, the chair of the D.C. City Council, said quite simply that “Congress needs to step out of this.”

“It perpetuates the current lawless situation in the city,” Mendselon said, as quoted by local news outlet WTOP.

But therein lies the rub. While voters in the District of Columbia legalized recreational pot use for adults all the way back in 2014, the sale of cannabis remains illegal. That is because Congress has oversight of laws in D.C. And every spending bill passed by Congress since that legalization initiative has contained what’s come to be known as the “Harris Rider.”

Named for Maryland Republican Congressman Andy Harris, the budget rider has barred the district from commercializing pot.

After initial signals from Congressional Democrats that they were prepared to remove the Harris Rider, it was still included in the $1.5 trillion spending bill that passed last Thursday. The bill was signed by President Joe Biden on Tuesday.

Mendelson said all that ban has done is promote illicit activity in the district, specifically pointing to the “pop-up” stores that sell weed anyway.

“These pop-ups are illegal,” Mendelson told WTOP.

“It’s an invitation to criminal activity, such as robberies,” he added. “It is fomenting criminal activity and that’s the public safety problem that Congress has handed us.”

Cannabis reform advocates were hopeful that, with Democrats controlling both chambers of Congress, the Harris Rider would finally be done away with.

When Senate Democrats introduced an appropriations bill in the fall that did not include the rider, Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser applauded the exclusion. As Bowser alluded to at the time, the ban on commercial weed sales captures the frustration stemming from D.C.’s lack of statehood.

“The Senate appropriations bill is a critical step in recognizing that in a democracy, D.C. residents should be governed by D.C. values,” Bowser’s office said in October. “As we continue on the path to D.C. statehood, I want to thank Senate Appropriations Committee Chair, Senator Patrick Leahy, our good friend and Subcommittee Chair, Senator Chris Van Hollen, and, of course, our champion on the Hill, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, for recognizing and advancing the will of D.C. voters. We urge Congress to pass a final spending bill that similarly removes all anti-Home Rule riders, allowing D.C. to spend our local funds as we see fit.”

Earlier this month, a group of more than 50 cannabis reform and civil rights advocacy groups, including the Drug Policy Alliance, sent a letter to Congressional leadership calling for an end to the Harris Rider.

“In one hand, Congress continues to make strides in advancing federal marijuana reform grounded in racial justice, while simultaneously being responsible for prohibiting the very jurisdiction that led the country in legalizing marijuana through this lens from being able to regulate it. This conflict and contradiction must end now,” said Queen Adesuyi, senior national policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance.

“Leadership passing on this historic chance to be on the right side of history—in standing for both marijuana reform and democracy—would be demoralizing, and a clear sign that there is a stronger commitment to use D.C. as a bargaining chip than on the values of marijuana justice and home rule. We look forward to working with them to finally bring this injustice to a close and ensure D.C. residents’ voice and vote are respected,” Adesuyi added.

The post D.C. Council Chair Rips Congress For Maintaining Ban On Weed Sales appeared first on High Times.