D.C. lawmakers prepare for legalization, waiting on congressional action
Washington D.C. lawmakers are gearing up in preparation for federal action on marijuana. On Friday, Nov. 19, the city’s council held a hearing where they heard testimony from nearly 100 people regarding a bill that would legalize, tax, and regulate the sale of recreational marijuana. Residents made suggestions on what the industry should look like in the nation’s capital, how tax revenues generated from sales would be spent, the future of the current medical marijuana program, and how to effectively advance both social equity and diversity.
Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, who introduced the bill earlier this year, explained to the people in attendance that the council only has the authority to hold hearings on the bill, currently. Under federal law, Congress has prohibited D.C. from legalizing the recreational sale of marijuana. The council is unable to vote on the bill until the federal government votes to lift their ban.
Mendelson’s bill would do more than legalize the sale of recreational cannabis, however. It would effectively expunge all marijuana-related arrest and conviction records and would create a Cannabis Equity and Opportunity Fund that would be used to help those who have been negatively impacted by the failing war on drugs start businesses in the new industry.
Tax revenue generated would be spent to provide homeless services, economic development, and other programs that could greatly benefit low-income neighborhoods in the district. Business licenses will also be set aside for those who have suffered from a marijuana-related conviction or those who currently reside in low-income neighborhoods.
Until action is taken at the federal level, D.C. lawmakers are unable to progress with legalization. They have decriminalized the use of cannabis, but congressional action is required before more can be done for the cause. Support for recreational marijuana legalization continues to grow at a national level, but President Joe Biden has yet to signal whether his stance has shifted since his 2020 campaign.