Officials in Washington, D.C., have called for a regulated market for marijuana consumption and redefined the issue as a threat to public health and safety, in an effort to circumvent Congressional blocks to the District’s efforts to legalize the drug.
The D.C. Department of Health released a July report calling on officials to establish a regulatory system for the substance so the city can control the distribution and sale of marijuana while also taxing it to boost city revenue. The department now classifies the government’s ability to control the substance as a public health and safety issue.
The District’s 2015 marijuana ballot initiative passed with roughly 64 percent support, but the legalities of the referendum remain in limbo a year later due to disagreement from Republicans in Congress. The House of Representative holds fiscal power over D.C. and currently bars the D.C. Council from using appropriated funds for taxing or regulating marijuana. (RELATED: Marijuana Activists Blast New Congress ‘Assaults’ On DC Legalization)
Residents in D.C. can posses up to two ounces of marijuana in their homes for private consumption, but the clarity of the law ends there. Without the ability to regulate and tax it, despite its legality in the city, officials say they cannot adequately engage and educate the public.
Activists lament the blocks from Congress, noting a well regulated system with a tax would bring in huge revenue for the District. Marijuana sales in Colorado, for example, totaled nearly $1 billion last year, for both medical and recreational purposes.
The city is losing out on the potential revenue stream even though D.C.’s law is looser than neighboring states with burgeoning marijuana industries like Maryland, where legality is currently focused purely on medical purposes. Maryland’s legal framework for medical marijuana could add $60 million annually to the state’s revenue by 2020, reports The Washington Post.
Maryland is expected to issue 15 cultivation licenses this summer and the competition to enter the market at the ground level is fierce. Former DEA agents, lawmakers, police officers, sheriffs and even a priest are hoping to be the first to financially benefit from Maryland’s expanding laws on legalization. (RELATED: House Republicans Propose Eliminating Gun Free Zones In Challenge To DC Home Rule)
“There’s good money to be made off of it,” Stanford Franklin, a retired state police major, told The Washington Post. “But there also needs to be enough companies doing things aboveboard, ensuring children have as little access as possible…and being a positive force for the community.”
Chances for a regulated market in the District currently rest on its ability to freely spend local funds without Congressional approval. Republicans in the House of Representatives have attached a rider to omnibus legislation preventing the District from using local funds to establish a regulatory system.
Activists are hopeful that new faces on the D.C. Council in 2017 will expand legalization in the District.
“They have come to the conclusion that the city needs ‘tax and regulate’ in order to have a safe system in D.C. for marijuana access,” Kaitlyn Boecker of the Drug Policy Alliance told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “Its the first time any U.S. city has been in the position where they have legal marijuana but no way for our lawmakers to actually regulate it.”
The ability to shape the image of marijuana in the public and help inform the community about health risks are driving the current push from the D.C. Department of Health to create a regulatory system. Officials also note that without a regulatory system for legal sale, the District’s black market for marijuana will continue to thrive. (RELATED: DC Marijuana Advocates Target Bowser Allies Running For Reelection)
‘Tax and regulate’ really is a public health and safety issue because the situation in the District now ties official’s hands and prevents them from issuing recommendations on teen use and education campaigns,” Boecker told TheDCNF. “We are getting to the point where essentially everyone in District government agrees that we need to do regulation. Its now evolved to the point where everyone saw the sky didn’t fall, the arrest rate has dropped 90 percent and we are generally seeing benefits.”
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