Marihuana is one of the things that is always present in my sex life. Those of us who live in or close to DC, are fortunate. Perhaps not as fortunate as the citizens of California, Washington State, or Colorado, but almost there.
The particular legal status of the District of Columbia
Because DC is not a state, its legal autonomy is very limited. DC’s citizens can elect their own legislature and their own mayor. However, every single significative piece of legislation must be approved by Congress. The extent of the local government autonomy is ruled by a charter approved in 1973, where Congress cedes some powers to the City Council and the Mayor, but keeps oversight power and the right to review and overturn local laws, and interfere in local affairs.
DC voters are famous to be overwhelmingly Democrat and liberal in “cultural war” battles. Gay marriage, assisted suicide, marihuana legalization, attitude toward undocumented immigrants, and every other controversial issue finds DC electorate leaning to the left.
The local government is a reflection of this progressive tendency. This situation has created a history of conflict more or less strong with its oversight authority. The history of marihuana legalization in DC is just another instance of that clash.
The first step was approving the use of marihuana for medicinal purposes. In 1998 the people of DC voted in favor of Initiative 59, a ballot initiative. The victory was overwhelming, 69% of the ballots. However, the people of DC would not learn this until much later.
Congress delayed the implementation of the voters’ decision. Congressman Bob Barr (R-GA) introduced an amendment to the 1999 Omnibus Spending Bill (DC’s budget is proposed by the local government but approved by the Congress oversight commission), called the Barr Amendment.
The Barr Amendment not only blocked the implementation of Initiative 59, but also forbade to release to the public the vote tally. The voters did not learn the results until about one year later. The American Civil Liberties Union won a lawsuit and the 69% result became public.
In response, Congressman Barr just passed a new amendment to the 2000 Omnibus budget law, this time overturning the Initiative. This new amendment also prohibited future laws that would “decrease the penalties for marijuana or other Schedule I drugs” in Washington, D.C.
The legal battle continued until 2009, when both the United States Senate and House of Representatives voted to lift the ban against the medical marijuana initiative, effectively overturning the Barr Amendment.
DC Council passed a new law that was not overruled by Congress and Medical Marihuana became legal on January 1, 2011. It took a couple of years to develop the respective regulation and approved producers and dispensaries. The first medical marihuana legal purchase in a DC dispensary took place in 2013.
Decriminalization of marihuana
On March 4, 2014, the City Council passed a law decriminalizing possession of marihuana. The oversight commission of Congress did not overruled the decision before the 30 days reviewing period. The new regulation went fully into effect in July.
Legalization of marihuana
On November 4, 2014, DC voters approved Initiative 71, a ballot initiative that legalized the recreational use of marihuana, by 64.87%.
To block the initiative, Congress approved a rider to the Budget Omnibus Law that prohibit the local government to use any funds to “enact any law, rule, or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce penalties associated with the possession, use, or distribution of any schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 801 et seq.) or any tetrahydrocannabinols derivative for recreational purposes.”
In the final language of the rider, that refers to “enact” any law, instead of “enact and carry out”, the local government found a back door. The Mayor and the City Council interpreted that the voter approved ballot-initiative was self-enacting. On January 13, 2015, the City Council sent the decision to Congress for the mandatory 30 days review period. They did not advertise it, but did it discretely, placing this controversial decision in between other routine paperwork.
The trick worked. The over-sighters did not notice the document until it was too late, passed the 30 days reviewing period. On February 26, 2015, the recreational use of Cannabis became legal in he District of Columbia. When they realized they had been fooled, Republican Congressmen like Jason Chaffez and Mark Meadows threatened the Mayor and other local government officials with lawsuits and prison. It was too late.
Marihuana in DC
Local authorities fooled the Congress and achieved legalization of marihuana with recreational purposes. However, the glitch in the rider’s language makes impossible to enact any regulations. Right now, we are in a situation where recreational use in private is legal, but commercialization or public use is illegal.
If you are 21 years old or older, it is legal to have at your home up to six marihuana plants, with no more than three mature at a single time. It is legal to carry up to one ounce and to possess up to two ounces, and to use marihuana in the privacy of your home. It is not legal to sell, to buy, and to use it in public places.
This has created a “trade” economy, with many creative solutions. No one is selling or buying, we are making and accepting donations. Some businesses are selling some other product, let’s say t-shirts, and attaching a little gift to it. It is a blooming market ruled by the principle of discrete advertisement.
Authorities seem to follow the non written law of non intervening if the activity is discrete. Up to my knowledge, the only one who got in trouble for commercialization so far, was a guy advertising his product in street fairs, in cars painted with bright colors and cannabis inspired art.
There are hundred of business like District Bloom, that discretely accepts donations after you try their delicious edibles. Besides these business several hubs and collectives are flourishing to foster the growing of the activity. I specially recommend Leafedin, our Uber Eat for pot.
Hasta la próxima pinga, amigos!