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Citizens of Washington D.C. Nervously Await Marijuana Legalization
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Since Congress has blocked Washington, D.C. from enacting certain laws about marijuana legislation, it is unclear how legalization laws will be enforced.

Summary: Both law enforcement and citizens of Washington, D.C. are unsure how new marijuana laws will be enforced.

According to the Washington Post, Washington, D.C. may soon be known as the “Wild West” of marijuana.


In just ten days, a voter-approved initiative to legalize marijuana will become effective. This means that both residents and tourists who are at least 21 years of age will be allowed to have enough marijuana to roll 100 joints. The new law will allow these individuals to grow marijuana, smoke it, share it with others, and carry it on their person.

According to some, marijuana is the fastest-growing industry in the United States.

However, it remains unclear as to how individuals will obtain the pot. The D.C. government has been prohibited from creating rules governing how pot will be sold. Congress, which has jurisdiction over D.C., has prohibited it from establishing these rules.

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In December, a majority of voters approved the referendum to legalize the use of marijuana. After the vote, Congress tried to upset the results by blocking rules that would create ways to sell marijuana, that would establish taxes to cover the social costs, or that would provide protections for those who are caught buying marijuana. According to Wikipedia, both recreational and medical marijuana is fully legal in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington.

According to officials in Washington, Congress’ moves did not stop the initiative, but instead paved the way for chaos to take over the nation’s capital. Unless last minute federal intervention arises, marijuana will be legal as early as February 26—without any sort of regulations in place to control the new marketplace.

Those who support the referendum are even concerned. They worry that unregulated businesses will open their doors without the safety of their product being monitored. The best-case scenario, according to the supporters, would be for residents to grow and smoke the marijuana at home, since the new law does not allow public consumption or sale.

A pot expo scheduled for February 28 has already reserved two ballrooms on Capitol Hill. A tremendous marijuana seed giveaway is being put together for March. Some are even creating “cannabis clubs” that will charge membership fees and provide access to marijuana. Some others even want to offer high-end catered dinners that are prepared in marijuana-infused oils. The underground test dinner was served less than two miles from the White House.

Texas has introduced a bill that would decriminalize marijuana possession.

D.C. Council member David Grosso (I-At Large) said, “Where can it be bought? Sold? Eaten? Smoked? We’re not going to have answers to any of that, and that makes me very concerned. Let’s be responsible about how we do this so we don’t have a negative image coming out.”

In Washington state and Colorado, the voter-approved ballot measures that legalized marijuana triggered the creation of regulated industries. These industries have more rules than those that control the sale of cigarettes or alcohol.

For example, marijuana plants that are to be sold in Colorado must be tagged with a radio-frequency identification. The location of the plant is tracked from seed until the sale. In Washington, the rules are even stricter: limits are set on how many stores can set pot, and those stores must report every single milligram of marijuana that leaves its site.

Tiffany Bowden, the cofounder of ComfyTree, a group that favors the legalization of marijuana, said, “The District will be unique because you can’t technically sell cannabis directly.” ComfyTree will host the expo, where over 200 marijuana entrepreneurs, consultants, and companies are expected to display their products and services.

Bowden added, “All that means is the traditional dispensary model as we know it will not happen. But that doesn’t mean the cannabis industry is going to be asleep. It’s actually going to be thriving in Washington.”

If this hypothesis is correct, the abundance of marijuana will toss D.C. into a legal predicament, all due to Congress’ exercising its constitutional power to interfere with local statutes.

At first, D.C. leaders planned to create rules. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) informed the public the day after she was elected that she would not allow Initiative 71, the voter-approved referendum, to become law until rules for taxing and selling marijuana had been approved. However, Bowser’s position changed in December when Republicans restricted the budget bill, blocking D.C. from creating such laws.

Bowser and D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) explained that they would rather err on the side of supporting the city voters. They decided that the ballot measure is “self-enacting.” In addition, according to the Huffington Post, the wording of President Barack Obama’s federal budget may allow D.C. to enforce the law using local funds.

Mendelson then sent the initiative to Capitol Hill to begin the congressional review process on all of the new city laws. Essentially, Mendelson was telling Congress to either block the initiative or allow D.C. to govern itself.

The review lasts for 30 legislative days, meaning that the last day federal lawmakers can act will be February 26. After that date, the law will allow residents and visitors over 21 years of age to possess up to two ounces of marijuana. This is roughly a Ziplock bag’s worth of pot. Residents will also be able to grow the plant in their homes, but with a limit—no more than six seedlings each, and only three plants may be grown to maturity.

Conservative members of Congress have said that the initiative will not be valid. According to these members, the budget language that was approved in December will suspend Initiative 71, and they have no plans to act further before February 26.

The issue may go to the courts for a decision. Either a resident of D.C. or the Department of Justice could file a lawsuit. The Justice Department has allowed legislation in four western states to proceed.

Some law schools have even introduced marijuana law courses.

How the city anticipates enforcing the new statutes remains to be seen. The office of Karl A. Racine, the attorney general of D.C., has stayed busy: it has provided the police department guidance on how to apply the new law. According to anonymous city officials, the police have been directed not to arrest or fine individuals for possession. They have also been directed not to use possession as a reason to investigate other criminal behavior. According to the officials, many nuances of the law will not be clear until they are litigated.

Bowser’s office has stayed quiet about the fast approaching deadline, and remains hopeful that the date will come and go “without the sky falling.”

Grosso noted that he had a meeting with Bowser on Friday and brought up several concerns as to what will occur at the end of this month. He said, “For one, I asked what happens when a restaurant or club has a smoking section outdoor and people light up? Do you arrest them?…I didn’t get an answer to that question.”

Those in public housing will also need further guidance on the new law. Currently, those who live in federal housing can lose their housing privileges for a single drug violation. Further, coordination with federal law enforcement needs to be addressed, since marijuana possession is punishable under federal law for up to a year if found on a person in Rock Creek Park, on the Mall, or in city traffic circles.

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A senior Bowser administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the major will probably soon encourage residents to smoke or cultivate marijuana only in their homes. If they do decide to carry it in public, they should keep it in their pockets, since anything more may risk a confrontation with the police.

Corey Barnet is the head of District Growers, a cultivation center for medical marijuana dispensaries in D.C. Barnet predicts that it will be hard for police to prove the sale of marijuana. His concern is that marijuana may be unsafe or laced with other drugs that can make purchasers ill.

Adam Eidinger, who organized the petition drive to get the initiative on the ballot in December, said that it’s unlikely that marijuana will be dangerous. Eidinger is concerned about police failing to clarify the details of enforcement, such as whether the plants may be grown on residential balconies, or if all growing must occur indoors. Another concern of Eidinger’s is that entrepreneurs will take things too far to profit. Therefore, the safest way to enjoy the new law, he explains, is to grow marijuana yourself. He said, “It’s legal, you can go do this, enjoy it. But if you buy it and get caught, you’re technically breaking the law. I hope they would make that a low priority, but the sharing of marijuana will be legal.”

The upcoming expo at the Capitol will demonstrate the confusion with the rules. Since D.C. is the first major jurisdiction on the east coast to legalize possession, marijuana companies predict that it will become a hot spot for marijuana. First, however, they have to determine how to protect buyers and business owners from charges related to either buying or selling marijuana.

Malik Burnett, the D.C. policy  manager for the Drug Policy Alliance, which fights for the liberalization of drug laws, said that a likely scenario will be “cannabis clubs.” Members will pay to be a part of an organization where pot is freely exchanged.

Burnett explained, “If you look at Spain, this is how it works. Spain has these social clubs that are totally nonprofit entities. They are private, you pay to the social club a membership fee, and they cultivate, grow and allow you to consume marijuana for free as a member of the social club. There is a whole blueprint for this that is totally a real possibility for the District.”

Bowden said that several presenters  will discuss the possibility of subscription or cooperative-type business that are inspired by Colorado “caregiver” laws, under which caregivers may obtain marijuana for family members or patients.

Bowden commented, “They can’t technically sell cannabis directly, but it does allow for donations to the organization. Most people think of the dispensary retail shops when they think of Colorado, but more often, they are not, they are home-based businesses. They can make money—they just can’t make it on the direct sale.”

Another possibility would be to “give away” marijuana in addition to offering other paid services, such as dinner or massages. “You have a home-based operation, maybe you do a food thing or massages…say you sell cookies. They are very expensive cookies–$50-a-month membership—you work out the rest on the back end.”

One such entrepreneur is a formal federal contractor who operates a concierge wellness program in D.C. He has filed for a business license and has started practicing at home how to infuse chocolates with cannabidiol oils, which are mostly hemp-related oils that do not have any psychoactive side effects. The business could transition to infusing chocolates and other edibles with THC, marijuana’s active chemical.

The business owner, who requested to remain anonymous, said, “Some of the things that I am involved with are borderline, they are gray areas. We don’t have the same cannabis culture that Colorado has…It’s not going to be all people smoking joints. We have a lot of people in this city who came here to work really hard. They are going to want a different experience. With the city’s restaurant scene, I think there is going to be a lot of opportunity in this space.” The business owner recently tested a four-course meal using canola oil, coconut oil, and olive oil infused with THC.

Source: Washington Post

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