If the D.C. Council votes in the same way it did two weeks ago, private venues where people could consume marijuana without fear of punishment will become illegal on a narrow decision, despite the imminent work of a new task force created to study these so-called cannabis clubs, and calls from activists to table the ban.
A handful of Council staffers say they don’t expect Tuesday’s vote to change from the one registered at the most recent legislative meeting on April 5. But whichever way the body’s 13 members vote—last time, it was 7-6 in favor of a permanent ban, on top of extant emergency and temporary bans—their rendering will precede the first public meeting of a special group charged with reporting on how D.C. could regulate pot clubs, over the course of four months. Councilmembers unanimously approved the establishment of the advocate-supported task force in February, when a majority passed the temporary ban that will have lasted for 225 days. The group is composed of officials from the Metropolitan Police Department, the Department of Health, the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, two councilmembers, and other agencies.
But Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau, who will serve on the task force, says it’s a “slap in the face” that the Council will take up the final vote on the permanent ban tomorrow—before the group has even met.
“The message I’ve been trying to get across to [my colleagues] is it really makes no sense to enact a permanent ban before the task force has a had a chance to inform the public,” Nadeau says. “My suggestion is to postpone the vote on the permanent ban until September, at which point the task force will have issued its report. It seems unwise and frankly undemocratic” to push through the ban in advance of the group’s recommendations.
Nadeau notes the task force has a “narrow mandate” to study possible health and safety standards for any cannabis clubs, their hours of operation, licensing, and locations. She adds that “it’s the easy way out” for the Council to permanently ban them—an action that cannot be reversed so long as a congressional rider barring the District from “reducing penalties” associated with marijuana remains in effect. “It’s also a little reckless,” Nadeau says: The permanent ban includes a provision that would revoke a business’s certificate of occupancy or permit for “knowingly permitting a violation” of the ban on consumption outside a home.
She adds that on Tuesday she will submit a motion to postpone consideration of the permanent ban until September and, possibly, amendments. “I’m certainly not thrilled about the idea of serving on a task force that has just been told what it’s outcome will be,” Nadeau admits. “But as with everything I take on, I will put my full energy into it and hope we come up with a good outcome.”
The task force will hold a community meeting at the Wilson Building tomorrow, scheduled to start at 6 p.m. Its first closed-door session will be on Friday.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery