Although congressional powers have done their best to prevent legal weed from being sold in the backyard of the White House, a recent verdict by a judge in the D.C. Superior Court has put District lawmakers in a position to begin considering a taxed and regulated pot market later this year.
Last month, Judge Brian Holeman ruled in favor of upholding the Local Budget Autonomy Act, which was approved in 2013 by 82 percent of the voters, giving the District more control over what it does with its local funds. The ruling, which asserts that the will of the citizens should be respected, now provides the District with the financial self-sufficiency it has needed to move forward with creating a retail marijuana trade without having to succumb to any further sandbag tactics by Congress.
“This means that the council can move forward to determine how to tax and regulate marijuana and pass a law to do so this fall,” the Marijuana Policy Project wrote in a statement.
Although the cultivation, possession and transfer of marijuana has been legal in the District for over a year, an appropriations rider, introduced by Maryland Representative Andy Harris, in 2014, has prevented the D.C. Council from enacting legislation aimed at establishing a retail pot market. There was some speculation that Congress would do away with the amendment before passing the current federal spending bill, last December, but it, along with several others, were simply renewed without much debate.
This historical decision by the D.C. Superior Court, however, gives the District of Columbia the freedom to get into the business of selling marijuana once the Fiscal Year 2016 budget expires in September. Some of the latest projections find that the District stands to generate in upwards of $93 million in tax revenue once it is permitted to open pot shops throughout the city.
Last March, D.C. Councilmember David Grosso told HIGH TIMES that “the council would act expeditiously” on the issue of retail pot sales once the Harris rider was no longer an issue. “We would probably move my bill [Marijuana Legalization and Regulation Act] on emergency basis to get it effective immediately,” he said. “The ABRA [Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration] would get right into the process.”
For over 40 years, the District of Columbia’s financial agenda has been under the thumb of Congress due to the Home Rule Act. The law has prevented District officials from having any authority over its budget without first begging Congress for approval. However, Judge Holeman’s ruling allows the District to be treated more like a state than a federal entity, giving the D.C. Council and the mayor the power to appropriate money for projects, such as taxing and regulating marijuana, in the same manner it does with any other law.
As it stands, the grey area surrounding the pot laws in the District have created some problems for those people searching for a way to capitalize on weed.
While marijuana sales are still illegal, some entrepreneurs, like Nicholas Cunningham of KUSH Gods, have encountered some legal woes for trying to cleverly work around the language of the District’s bizarre pot laws.
Several weeks ago, the D.C. Superior Court found Cunningham guilty of selling marijuana after he was caught running a donation-based edibles operation throughout the city. Fortunately, Cunningham avoided jail time—receiving a 180 day suspended sentence and two years probation—but more people could likely wind up getting into trouble if the District does not come up with a common sense approach to distributing legal weed.
There is still a chance that Congress will attempt to stop the D.C. Council from moving forward with legislation to legalize recreational pot sales. According to the Marijuana Policy Project, Congress may decide to adopt a joint resolution aimed at preventing retail sales. However, a resolution of this magnitude would need the approval of both chambers and the signature of President Obama before it could become law.
“Thanks to congressional gridlock and President Obama’s support for D.C. choosing its own marijuana policy, this would be much more difficult than simply adding a rider to a lengthy appropriations bill funding the federal government,” the MPP said.
Therefore, it is conceivable that Washington, D.C. could see the implementation of a retail pot market by sometime in 2017.
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