Credit: Darrow Montgomery

A new player has entered the race to become the squarest local resident to bring a regulated recreational marijuana market to the District. D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson introduced legislation today that would impose a 13 percent tax on the sale of recreational marijuana. Mayor Muriel Bowser introduced a similar bill on Friday that includes a 17 percent tax.

It’s unclear which of the marijuana legalization bills will win out, but Mendelson appears to have the edge. As chairman, he determines to which the committees the bills will be referred. And as chair of the Committee of the Whole, he can prioritize his own bill over Bowser’s. Councilmembers Kenyan McDuffie (Ward 5), Charles Allen (Ward 6), Brooke Pinto (Ward 2), Mary Cheh (Ward 3), Brianne Nadeau (Ward 1) and Christina Henderson (At-Large) have already signed on as co-introducers. Mendelson believes his bill is way better and way more equitable, he says in an interview. Bowser’s spokesperson says her office has not seen the chairman’s bill.

Council Chairman Phil Mendelson. Photo by Darrow Montgomery. Credit: Darrow Montgomery/file

“The strategies in our bill are thought through to look at goals in other states and to be more effective in accomplishing them,” Mendelson says. “And the mayor’s bill doesn’t do that.”

Mendelson says he has smoked marijuana previously, but it was a long time ago, and he didn’t want to discuss the details. He also declined LL’s invitation to share a celebratory joint rolled with the strain “Mendo Breath” if the bill passes.

“In your fantasy,” he says.

Although there is wide support on the D.C. Council for a tax and regulate scheme, there is some question as to whether the bill would take effect even if it passed. D.C. voters approved recreational marijuana growth and use in 2014, but a Congressional budget rider has prevented the District government from spending any funds to tax and regulate it. Since Democrats control Congress and the White House, Mendelson is optimistic the rider will be removed.

Mayor Muriel Bowser. Photo by Darrow Montgomery. Credit: Darrow Montgomery/File

Mendelson says his bill incorporates what he believes are best practices from other states. He says his staff assembled a working group that for the past year studied and discussed marijuana regulation. The group included councilmembers and the mayor’s office, he says, which makes LL wonder why Bowser chose to drop her bill on the Friday before Mendelson announced his. The chairman says he was unaware the mayor was planning to introduce her own version.

Below, find a comparison of some of the bills’ important provisions:

LICENSES

Under Mendelson’s proposal, residents who’ve been convicted of marijuana-related offenses or lived 10 of the past 20 years in areas with high poverty, unemployment, and arrests, referred to as “social equity applicants” in the bill and current medical marijuana establishments get first and exclusive dibs on the licenses to cultivate, manufacture, and sell marijuana.

Fifty percent of the licenses for cultivation, manufacturing, microbusinesses (which allows licensees to grow, manufacture and sell at retail), and retail sales are reserved for people who’ve been convicted of cannabis-related offenses or who live in areas with disproportionately high crime, arrests, poverty, or unemployment.

Bowser’s bill sets up a point system that prioritizes returning citizens who’ve been arrested or convicted of a marijuana-related offense, veterans, and local residents that are economically disadvantaged or are subject to racial or ethnic prejudice or cultural bias. She also requires line-level employees and managers to obtain licenses to work in marijuana businesses. Workers’ licenses cost $50; managers’ cost $130. Mendelson does not require a license or impose fines to work in a marijuana business.

Both bills require that at least 60 percent of the cultivation, manufacturing, microbusiness, or off-premises retail licenses must have one or more District residents owning at least 60 percent of the business. Sixty percent of the employees for those businesses must be District residents, according to both bills.

WHO IS DISQUALIFIED?

Under Bowser’s bill anyone “who has pending charges or a felony conviction for a crime of violence; pending charges or any felony or misdemeanor conviction involving a gun; pending charges or a felony or misdemeanor conviction for tax evasion, fraud, or credit card fraud within the 3 years preceding the date the application is filed with ABCA.”

Mendelson’s bill prohibits people convicted of crimes “related to the business for which a license is sought,” from getting any license, though a drug conviction “shall not be the sole ground for denial of a license,” unless the offense involved a minor.

HOW DO YOU SPEND THE REVENUES?

Mendelson’s bill taxes recreational marijuana sales at 13 percent while Bowser’s imposes a 17 percent tax. Both bills propose a 6 percent tax on medical marijuana sales.

Bowser’s bill establishes two funds. The “Cannabis Regulation Administration Fund” that receives all funds from licensing and fees and is used for the newly formed Alcoholic Beverage and Cannabis Administration and other agencies’ administrative and regulatory work under the act.

The second fund, the “Cannabis Sales Tax Fund,” receives all the tax revenue. After six months, the revenue is divided among several programs and initiatives including: support for returning citizens seeking to start a cannabis business, support for grocery stores in Wards 7 and 8, support for workforce development, youth mentoring programs, job training and placement programs, college scholarships for students whose parents are incarcerated, grants for “locally disadvantaged certified business enterprises to open or expand sit-down restaurants in Ward 7 or Ward 8,” and support for public schools, including after school sports and activities.

Mendelson’s bill also establishes two funds. The “Cannabis Equity and Opportunity Fund” gets 30 percent of tax revenues from recreational and medical cannabis sales and pays for outreach to people in disadvantaged areas, who were arrested for or convicted of marijuana-related offenses or their families, who may be interested in getting in on the new weed market. It can also be used for job training and technical assistance for the cannabis industry for those residents.

The “Community Reinvestment Fund” gets 50 percent of the tax revenues and provides grants to community-based organizations focused on homelessness prevention, youth development, and civil legal aid in areas hit hardest by the war on drugs. A board made up of community-based organizations, returning citizens, government officials, and eligible grantees decide who gets the grants. The remaining 20 percent of revenues get dumped into the general fund.

EXPUNGEMENT AND CRIMINAL PENALTIES

Both bills require automatic expungement for arrests, prosecutions, and convictions involving marijuana, though under Bowser’s proposal cases that also involve guns, controlled substances other than marijuana, violence, or more than 1,000 marijuana plants or more than 1,000 pounds of dry marijuana do not qualify. Mendelson’s bill does not include those exemptions. But under his proposal, only marijuana-related charges will be expunged, and an associated drug or gun charge, for example, will remain on a person’s record but will not disqualify the marijuana-related charge for expungement.

Bowser’s bill specifically does not apply to marijuana-related DUIs; Mendelson’s bill makes no such distinction. Neither bill allows for expungement of cases involving sale or distribution to a minor.

For people under 21 caught with marijuana, Mendelson’s bill imposes a $25 civil fine for the first offense, $50 for the second, and $100 for the third and each subsequent offense, though a judge can authorize community service in addition to, or in lieu of, a fine. Police cannot arrest or penalize a person 21 or older for anything to do with marijuana paraphernalia. In Bowser’s bill, anyone younger than 21 who is caught possessing or using marijuana, or attempting to fraudulently purchase marijuana can’t be charged with a crime, but is subject to stiffer fines and suspended driving privileges. The first violation is a $300 fine and suspended driving privileges for 90 days. The second violation is $600 and suspended driving privileges for 180 days. And for the third and subsequent violations, kids will get a $1,000 fine and one-year driving suspension. Failure to pay the fine could result in up to 30 days of jail time.

Mendelson’s bill also includes provisions that explicitly allow people serving prison sentences for marijuana-related crimes to ask a judge to vacate, set aside or correct the sentence. Bowser’s bill doesn’t include any resentencing provisions. His bill also says a positive drug test for marijuana cannot be grounds for violation of pretrial services or community supervision unless a judge specifically orders it. And the chairman’s bill includes protections for residents to prevent them from losing public benefits and employment.