The Future of Legal Weed in DC: Part 1

At the recent Comfy Tree Cannabis Expo held at the Holiday Inn Capitol, DC Councilmember David Grosso spoke in front of hundreds of cannabis entrepreneurs and stoner enthusiasts about the District of Columbia’s painstaking battle with Congress to legalize marijuana in the nation’s capital.

During the discussion, it became apparent that Grosso has a throbbing disdain for congressional powers and the federal government’s relentless efforts to sandbag the city from moving ahead with a taxed and regulated cannabis industry. Yet, the lawmaker seemed satisfied, at least for the time being, with the council’s ability to sidestep the congressional spending bill and implement Initiative 71, which legalized the cultivation, possession and transfer of marijuana in the District of Columbia—the war nerve of prohibition.

While Grosso made a point to answer as many questions as possible from the audience, one important inquiry failed to be addressed before he left the stage: What is next for legalized marijuana in the District of Columbia? More specifically, how long will it take before DC is operating a fully functional cannabis trade like Colorado and Washington state?

In an exclusive interview with High Times, Councilmember Grosso said that city officials are looking into reserve budgets from previous fiscal years as a possible option for “enacting” legislation to establish a DC pot market. While he agreed that the concept is creative, Grosso doesn’t think it will work. Instead, he suggested that he and his colleagues should revolt, break the law and blatantly defy the grey hairs of Congress to show them that the city has a spine.

“I’m not a big fan of trying to get around things through legal maneuvering,” Grosso said. “I think it’s more important for the District of Columbia to stand up and do what is right for the people.”

In the past, Grosso has tried to persuade other councilmembers, as well as previous mayor Vincent Gray, to ignore the requests of the federal government in regard to the finances of the District of Columbia. He believes that since the city rakes in $8 billion per year, the District should be allowed to spend their money how they see fit without being “watchdogged” to death.

“What I was arguing back then and what I argue today is that we should just go ahead and move forward with what we think is best for the people of DC, and then deal with the consequences later, whatever they are… we know that they’re not severe,” he said.

The consequences Grosso is referring to would stem from a violation of the Anti-Deficiency Act, which prohibits federal funds that have not been appropriated and has never been prosecuted in the history of its existence. Although some members of Congress might lunge at the DC Council with clenched fists and gnashing teeth, Grosso does not believe the council would be chastised beyond repair because the issue is about marijuana—a substance that is gaining acceptance all over the country.

“It’s actually happening everywhere,” Grosso said. “These members of Congress that are engaged in this effort right now are just literally behind the times by quite awhile. The rest of Congress, as well as the Justice Department and others, are really up with the times but don’t want to engage in this conversation at all. I don’t think we would be in any jeopardy of going to jail or anything else.”

That’s why Grosso believes the DC Council should push the envelope and force Congress to butt out. But it is a complicated matter. While Grosso feels that legal maneuvering in order to comply with the law is  useless, the majority of his fellow councilmembers have expressed concerns over the repercussions of a fight.

“Unfortunately, I’m one person,” Grosso said. “I can’t convince all my colleagues that that’s the best approach, and I’m certainly not going to convince the mayor and the chief financial officer to do that. They’re just not willing to risk it. That’s just not my style, I’m willing to risk it.”

In the midst of the Comfy Tree Cannabis Expo last weekend, charismatic marijuana activists like Alex Jeffrey, executive director of DC NORML, spent some time brainstorming alternative sources of funding to help the DC Council enact legislation to legalize a taxed and regulated pot market. One of the ideas was to use volunteers and interns. The Harris Amendment prevents the DC from spending money to enact marijuana legislation, but if enough volunteers donated their time to the cause, its reasonable to argue that legislation could be enacted without spending a dime.

Apparently, that’s not the case.Grosso said that while he appreciates the willingness of DC residents to help take on Congress from the front lines, volunteers could not be used to complete the enactment of legislation because they cannot vote.

“Our general counsel in the DC Council’s office has [said] that we can go through the hearing process. We can go through all of the things that lead up to the vote because none of that is considered enactment,” Grosso explained. “Enactment in his opinion, and legal opinion, is that it’s a point in time. So, enactment would be when we actually voted. We can’t have volunteers vote for us.

“I think though, even if we were to do everything leading up [to a vote] with volunteers, it’s kind of irrelevant because when we vote we would have to break the law,” he continued. “And I don’t think my colleagues want to do that.”

Note: In Part II of The Future of Legal Weed in DC, Councilmember Grosso predicts when the District of Columbia can expect retail pot sales.

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