The Future of Legal Weed in DC: Part 2

When discussing the recently implemented Initiative 71, which legalized the recreational use, cultivation and transfer of marijuana in the District of Columbia, Councilmember David Grosso projected a great deal of confidence about his expectations for success. While naysayers predicted legal weed would cause a veritable uprising and spill chaos into the city streets, Grosso said he does not anticipate the new law will cause residents to enter into a state madness.

“We didn’t see it with decriminalization, we’re not going to see it now with Initiative 71, and I don’t think we’d see it with the full regulation of marijuana,” Grosso said. “It’s not like we’re legalizing PCP.”

Although Initiative 71 does not allow for the existence of a retail market, there is nothing written in the language that could stop enterprising minds from opening private cannabis clubs.

It did not take long, however, before District lawmakers began to express some concern over this possibility, and by the eve of legalization, Mayor Muriel Bowser announced at a press conference that a ban was foreseeable. Earlier this week, the DC Council unanimously approved emergency legislation to impose a ban on private pot clubs, which Grosso said was not intended to stifle the DC cannabis culture right out of the gate but to protect the best interest of the District.

“If we have private clubs popping up all over the city, which would be legal under Initiative 71, then I think you create a greater community problem,” Grosso said. “What if they’re on a busy street with a whole bunch of row houses, and one pops up in the middle of it? There’s no way to regulate that, and we would have no recourse. Although, I’m fine with people getting together and smoking marijuana or doing whatever, I’m actually not okay with it if it has the potential to have a negative impact on the broader community.”

While Grosso understands that people are upset over the District’s decision to ban cannabis clubs, he suggests residents should be angry at Congress for preventing the city from moving ahead with a full regulatory framework.

“We could have retail stores, or we could have restaurants that have marijuana-infused products,” he said. “We could have everything. I can imagine a very robust economy, but Congress has stopped us from doing that.”

As for now, it appears the ban on cannabis clubs is only a temporary arrangement, at least until Congress permits the District to move ahead with legislation to establish a taxed and regulated market.

“Once we go through the process through our regulatory agencies and we get to the point where we have shops and we have places where it can be cultivated, I think it would be highly appropriate to have a cannabis club of some sort,” Grosso. But what the people of DC are failing to understand is that “we’re in a way better position than we were,” he added.

Make no mistake about it, Grosso is adamant the District of Columbia will move forward with plans to establish a cannabis industry as soon as they can crawl out from under the thumb of Congress. Unfortunately, they will probably have to wait until September 30 to break the chains. That is when the 2016 fiscal budget officially comes to an end, but one question remains. Will Congress attach another Harris rider to the next spending bill? Grosso said he is hoping for the best.

“My hope is that what will happen is cooler minds will prevail,” he said. “And they’ll see that there’s no problem with Initiative 71 and that we’re being responsible about how we’re addressing it. And the majority leader in the House and in the Senate will just say, ‘no we’re not going to put that rider on there, let’s let the District of Columbia move forward with proper regulation like they do already with alcohol.’”

Although Grosso is not exactly sure that DC’s road to a regulated marijuana market is right around the corner, he did say it is possible that legal sales could be in play by mid to late 2016, depending on what happens with Congress within the next several months. Although, he said his prediction is the best case scenario.

“If Congress lifts the rider in the next budget cycle and says that we can move forward with regulation, I believe the council would act expeditiously,” Grosso said. “We would probably move my bill [Marijuana Legalization and Regulation Act] on emergency basis to get it effective immediately. The ABRA [Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration] would get right into the process. But that’s all imperative on Congress stepping up for the people of the District of Columbia.”

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