On Wednesday, it only took five minutes for the District of Columbia’s Judiciary Committee to be overpowered by the vote of the Chairman, Phil Mendelson (D), to move forward a bill to permanently ban the social use of cannabis in the District.
This means B21-0701, the “Marijuana Decriminalization Possession Clarification Amendment Act of 2016” will be scheduled for a second reading at another legislative meeting, as outlined in the legislation process on DCNA.org.
The D.C. Judiciary Committee voted to table the measure (3 – 2) but with the ‘yes’ vote from the Chairman of the Full Committee who was sitting in for Councilmember LaRuby May (D-Ward 8), the vote tipped in favor of passing the bill.
Initiative 71, the measure legalizing cannabis under certain circumstances, went into effect almost exactly a year ago in the District. Shortly after it passed, a clarification to the original legislation was added to ban cannabis use in private clubs and businesses. This temporary clarification bill seeking to clarify what constitutes a ‘public space’ is currently being considered by the District to become a permanent amendment.
Initially, the clarification ban was set to expire earlier this month and the D.C. Judiciary actually let the ban expire – for about 20 minutes. The change of heart was spearheaded by the lobbying efforts by Mayor Muriel Bowser who personally called some of the council members sitting at the dais asking them to reconsider.
Wednesday’s markup gave Councilmember Jack Evans (D – Ward 2) the opportunity to state why he was voting to table consideration of the permanent bill. He said, “we must consider the Congress, what we approve is the new standard,” adding that they could continue to work until April 13 to come up with a solution.
The approved measure was also a letdown for pro-cannabis community activists DCMJ. They were not happy with how things went at the markup.
— DCMJ (@DCMJ2014) January 27, 2016
However, they do agree the initiative could use some clarification. According to their website, they want the amended version to be “less broad and carve out exceptions for adult use outside of private residences.” They want to table the ban, postponing the final markup until after April 13th too.
Adam Eidinger, D.C. cannabis activist and a leader of DCMJ, agrees with Councilmember Evans that the District has a unique position under the federal supervision of Congress.
Good point @JackEvansWard2 that making this permanent only ties our hands with Congress.
— Adam Eidinger (@aeidinger) January 27, 2016
States like Colorado and Alaska are working through these kinds of issues right now as Chairman of the Judiciary, Kenyan McDuffie (D- Ward 5) explained at Wednesday’s markup.
They ‘illustrate how complicated…the nuances of the regulatory structure and safety of the product are.’ He also expressed his concerns over the lack of framework in this gray area. McDuffie said the committee assumes the poorer Wards with the least commercial residences would be impacted negatively, so they should uphold the ban until they can come up with regulatory framework.
Mendelson, the Chairman of the Full Committee was sitting in for Councilmember LaRuby May, giving his to vote in her stead.
Councilmember May was one of the councilmembers to reverse her initial decision earlier this month after being lobbied by the mayor, according to The Washington Post, and remains a swing vote on the issue. May is up for reelection this spring.