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Councilwatchers have come to expect surprises during meetings on marijuana, such as when cannabis clubs briefly appeared to have been legalized last month. But on Tuesday, even advocates were astonished when Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie, who chairs the Council’s Committee on the Judiciary and represents Ward 5, removed from consideration a bill that, if passed without amendments, would have permanently banned the controversial venues.
Although more than 60 percent of residents polled say they support the creation of “regulated places where adults can legally consume marijuana” outside of their homes, the District has been at pains to determine how these social spaces (essentially, private membership organizations) would be properly licensed and regulated. Lawmakers have also expressed concern over whether clubs would violate a congressional rider preventing D.C. from using funds to implement a legal-marijuana market.
During the Committee of the Whole’s morning meeting, McDuffie withdrew the permanent ban from the following legislative session’s agenda. This means the next time it would come up for a vote is the COW’s meeting on Feb. 16. (McDuffie’s spokesperson has not returned a request for comment on why he decided to table the bill on Tuesday.)
The Council did unanimously approve a temporary ban on cannabis clubs today, which would remain in effect for no longer than 225 days once it’s been reviewed by the mayor and Congress. A spokesperson for Mayor Muriel Bowser said her office would review the proposal. But it did so with a significant amendment embedded, co-introduced by Councilmembers Vincent Orange, Brianne Nadeau, David Grosso, and Jack Evans. That amendment establishes a seven-member task force that would study the feasibility of cannabis clubs in the District, including: health and safety standards, hours of operation, food and beverage availability, the involvement of local agencies, security plans, the amount of marijuana one could bring to them, the costs of membership, and locations.
The task force would consist of representatives from the Metropolitan Police Department, the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration, the Department of Health, the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, the Office of the Attorney General, and two members of the D.C. Council. It would strive to publish a report about how cannabis clubs may look in the District, over a period of 120 days, as the temporary ban on them remains in effect.
“The sky hasn’t fallen and we are a year wiser, so I believe the time is right to consider designated spaces” for the communal consumption of marijuana, Nadeau said of Congress’ rider preventing the tax and sale of the substance.
Councilmember Elissa Silverman, who supports the creation of the task force, explained that only the District has to contend with the potential of congressional interference, unlike other jurisdictions where marijuana is legal.
Legal-weed advocates were largely pleased with the support for the task force and the tabling of the permanent ban.
The @councilofdc voted to create a task force to study & make recommendations on social use of cannabis in the District of Columbia
— DCMJ (@DCMJ2014) February 2, 2016
“Today’s withdrawal of the permanent ban shows that elected officials have finally begun to heed their constituents’ wishes, but the fight for the creation of regulated places where adults can legally consume marijuana is far from over,” says Kaitlyn Boecker of the Drug Policy Alliance in a statement. Adam Eidinger, who spearheaded the Initiative 71 campaign that legalized possessing and gifting of modest amounts of weed, described it as “a victory.”
Photo by Darrow Montgomery