DC Politicians Are Hesitant to Implement Initiative 71

In the afterglow of the midterm election victories for legal cannabis, it’s time to examine the nature of the laws themselves so that nationwide legalization can be meaningful and efficient, not to mention planning future cannabis tourism and events in such places. And, unsurprisingly, politicians are already trying to slow progress by waiting for regulation measures to be created before DC’s legal weed will go into effect. This doesn’t make sense, and here’s why.

Although cannabis reform is always nuanced, the primary differences in the way legal weed will be handled depends where the law passed — in a city, like DC, or in the states of Washington, Colorado, Alaska and Oregon.

The bill in DC is called Initiative 71, and it allows users to possess of up to two ounces of marijuana, to grow up to six plants, to give up to one ounce of marijuana to another person, and to use and sell paraphernalia related to the growth, processing, and use of marijuana, according to DCMJ, a campaign that promoted the bill.

Take caution, however. All of this is only legal for people who are at least 21 years old. Only three plants may be mature and flowering in a person’s home at any given time. And selling is still illegal.

In fact, the bill doesn’t provide measures for regulating the sale of cannabis at all. This is because a voter initiative cannot allocate any city funds, which would be required to create a regulatory system.

For this reason, many in DC are worried about implementing the bill, and some fear that Congress will overturn it, or that none of it will take effect until DC has a system for regulating the sale of cannabis. Mayor-elect Muriel Bowser wants to delay 71 until laws are in place for marijuana to be taxed and regulated.

Cold feet on cannabis reform existed even before November 4th, including a Washington Post editorial plea to vote no on 71, largely for reasons of timing. Because why would DC want to take the risky step of legal weed when we can wait for further testing and watch Colorado make mistakes so we don’t have to?

But, as states like Colorado have shown, reform doesn’t have to happen all at once. And it’s unlikely that DC will burst into flames or fall into a cannabis-induced crime spree if the measures outlined in Initiative 71 take effect soon.

Colorado’s cannabis bill, or Amendment 64, took effect only a month after it passed, but no regulatory system for the sale of cannabis existed for over a year. Adam Eidinger, a leader of the campaign to pass 71, said of Colorado, “They stopped arresting people, they let people grow their own and keep what they grew. There was no regulation in place other than that.”

The political backlash to the passage and implementation of the initiative doesn’t make much sense, because if DC took Colorado’s approach to regulation, there would be no cost until a regulatory system was in place. In fact, money would be saved by the lack of marijuana crimes to process. Plus, once it is regulated, it can be taxed to raise extra money for the city, and related business will boost the city’s economy.

Plus, Colorado can act as a working model for regulation of cannabis sales. Amendment 64, now a part of Colorado’s constitution called Section 16, called for a committee to be created to produce regulations on the plant. We can hope that DC will do what is wise and that lawmakers will try to expedite this process rather than boggle it down with legal jargon and misinformation about how difficult implementation will be.

Alaska’s Ballot Measure 2 decriminalizes weed in a similar fashion to 71 — people over 21 can possess up to 6 plants and one ounce of cannabis. It also legalizes the manufacture, possession, and sale of paraphernalia. Importantly, it allows for the legal selling of weed, and establishes a Marijuana Control Board to be created by the state legislature to assume the duties of taxation and regulation.

Oregon’s approach is slightly more liberal, with the possession of up to eight ounces of marijuana being made legal through the Legalized Marijuana Initiative, or Measure 91. The bill hands cannabis regulation to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission.

So let’s hope that Oregon, Alaska, and DC choose to approach cannabis in a way similar to Colorado, where weed has brought economic prosperity as well as reduced harmful consumption of tobacco and alcohol. Crime in the state is down 10% since last year, and robbery rates of dispensaries are the lowest they have ever been. And Colorado Governor Hickenlooper’s budget proposal estimates that the state could rake in $98 million in tax revenue in the coming fiscal year alone. Plus, it’s estimated that Colorado has about 10,000 jobs in the marijuana industry.

So, rationality dictates that an expedited path to regulation and taxation of cannabis would be a sensible move for DC lawmakers and those in Oregon and Alaska too. Politics slow legislation down no matter how logical it is. But raw data is on our side, and with Colorado as a living example of good cannabis policy’s success, it’s only a matter of time before the US as a whole goes green (and gets lots of green in the process).

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