A nugget of marijuana
Credit: Darrow Montgomery/FILE

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The D.C. Council’s resident defender of counterculture, Chairman Phil Mendelson, is out with another bill to set up a recreational cannabis market in D.C. The bill is similar to his previous efforts to legalize recreational usage, with one significant addition that establishes “reparations for victims of the war on cannabis.”

But just like all of D.C.’s previous efforts to tax and regulate cannabis products, the bill introduced this month almost certainly won’t reach Mayor Muriel Bowser’s desk thanks to congressional Democrats’ failure to remove a budget rider while they had control of both chambers.

The rider, infamously backed by Maryland’s Republican narc, Rep. Andy Harris, prevents D.C. from using local tax dollars to establish a recreational market. So while the rider is in place, Mendelson’s bill will serve only as a theoretical framework.

So what’s in the bill?

• People 21 and older can possess, buy, and gift up to one ounce of weed. They can grow up to six plants, but only three can be mature.

• Recreational cannabis is taxed at 13 percent (medical cannabis is taxed at 6 percent).

• Half of all licenses are reserved for “social equity” applicants—a D.C. resident who owns at least 50 percent of the business and is a returning citizen, is a member of an impacted family, or makes less than 150 percent of the median family income.

• A “Reparations for Victims of the War on Cannabis Fund” would collect 40 percent of sales tax revenue and provide cash payments of $5,000 to $80,000 to people who were impacted by criminalization before March of 2015, when D.C.’s current legalization scheme took effect.

• A “Cannabis Equity and Opportunity Fund” would collect 40 percent of revenues to be used as loans and grants for license applicants who are impacted by criminalization. 

• A “Community Re-investment Program Fund” would pay for “grants to residents and community-based organizations for programs, projects, or initiatives that address economic development, education, mental health treatment, substance abuse disorder treatment, non-law enforcement violence prevention services, homeless prevention services, re-entry services, youth development, and civil legal aid.”

Last year, the Council voted to expand its medical marijuana market. A bill that passed unanimously in December gives businesses operating in D.C.’s “gray market” an opportunity to apply for a medical cannabis license. The bill also allows medical marijuana patients to “self-certify,” eliminating the need for a doctor’s note to get a medical marijuana card.

The Council also unanimously approved an amendment from At-Large Councilmember Christina Henderson that requires the D.C. Superior Court to automatically expunge all criminal records and court proceedings related to simple possession of marijuana of any quantity before 2015. The amendment was part of a larger sentencing reform bill, which Bowser allowed to go into effect without her signature. The mayor has until Feb. 1 to act on the medical marijuana expansion bill.

Mitch Ryals (mryals@washingtoncitypaper.com)

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