DC Cannabis Legalization Nears the Finish Line

WSJ Team February 18, 2015 0

Having scuttled the DC Council’s Feb. 9 attempt to tax and regulate marijuana, Attorney General Karl Racine  now says that pot will become legal after Feb. 26 without any regulations in place to govern the first recreational marketplace on the East Coast.

Although the DC AG’s position on weed has been ambivalent since the issue arose last year, Racine is siding with Obama on legalization. At the Sept. 8 DC Vote candidates forum, the campaigning AG said that voters need more time to wrap their heads around the issue. Then, three weeks later, following the NBC4/Washington Post poll clarifying the will of voters, he stated, “It is ‘high time,’ so to speak, that marijuana be legal.”

Racine even went further than Initiative 71 which does not legalize cannabis sales, and proposed using sales tax from marijuana to fund children’s health care, and stated that pot is less harmful than alcohol.

Similarly, the Obama administration has asked federal prosecutors to let states experiment with legalization, and most recently, the Feb. 2 Federal Budget allowed DC to take charge of spending its own money on legalization.

So given Racine’s interference with pot regulation last week, it almost seems that the political apparatus is practically pursuing what the Washington Post calls “chaos” in DC. If Congress does not more powerfully block Initiative 71 enactment before the Feb. 26 deadline, the DC cannabis market will have no choice but to self-regulate, e.g. skirt the law in some form or fashion. In nine days, DC residents and visitors will be able to possess two ounces, carry it, share it, smoke it and grow it.

However, they will not be able to buy it or sell it legally, in contrast to Colorado and Washington State. Thus, the black market will likely explode, boosting business for delivery services and unregulated businesses using indirect means of payment, such as club memberships and even high-end catered dinners cooked in marijuana-infused oils.

While six seedlings and three mature plants will be legal, growing weed at home is not for novices and means that the product is unavailable for lengthy periods of time between harvests.

Thanks to federal control of DC’s funds, the District has been barred from building on its own dispensary model already in place for medical marijuana, or establishing a parallel model to Colorado and Washington. Meanwhile, Colorado has made so much on taxes that the state is refunding potentially upwards of $100 million. Similarly, taxing cannabis in DC would help Mayor Muriel Bowser close the $250 million gap between projected revenues and future spending in the District’s $12 billion budget for 2015.

Given the mayhem that could develop with a proliferation of illegal pot sales, the issue is likely going to be litigated at some point, perhaps via the first arrests under the new law. Meanwhile, law enforcement is at a major crossroads. Racine’s guidance to DC police is to not arrest or issue fines for possession, or use possession as a pretext to investigate other criminal behavior. But that leaves a plethora of unanswered questions, like what happens when folks get baked in a restaurant’s outdoor smoking section? Most importantly, what happens if a smoker gets caught on federal lands, 21.6% of DC including almost any traffic circle? Can they still be sent to prison for a year?

At the end of the day, DC is legalizing an already decriminalized marijuana business. So why doesn’t the whole nation get to join in this basic freedom that mankind has enjoyed throughout history outside of recent prohibition periods? Are we a truly United States without a harmonized legal system? Perhaps the DC saga will end up further galvanizing marijuana proponents and sympathizers around the country to force legalization upon the politicians. It’s probably already been decided.

By: Robert Brand

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