D.C. Council to Hold Hearing on Marijuana Legalization, Taxation and Regulation in the District of Columbia

Press Release October 29, 2014
Media Contact

<p>Contact: Dr. Malik Burnett, 443-821-0260 or Tony Newman, 646-335-5384</p>

D.C. Councilmembers Vincent Orange (D-At Large) and Jack Evans (D-Ward 3) are holding a joint public hearing today on legislation introduced in 2013 by Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large) that would establish a system which legalizes, taxes and regulates marijuana in the Nation’s Capital. Councilmember Orange chairs the Committee on Business, Consumer, and Regulatory Affairs and Councilmember Evans chairs the Committee on Finance and Revenue.

The hearing will specifically examine sections six through nine of the “Marijuana Legalization and Regulation Act of 2013” (Council Bill #20-466), and will take place today at 11am in Room 500 of the D.C. Council Chambers located at 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. in Washington, D.C. Advocates will provide testimony in support of using the proceeds from legalization towards rebuilding the communities harmed by the war on drugs.

This hearing comes just a few days in advance of voters deciding whether personal possession of marijuana should be legalized in the Nation’s Capital, by voting on Initiative 71. The measure has been endorsed by the Washington, D.C. chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the D.C. Branch of the National Organization for Women, D.C. Working Families and the local chapters of Service Employees International Union and United Commercial Food Workers.

“The D.C. Council has a unique opportunity to create a new model marijuana legalization in a racial justice context,” said Dr. Malik Burnett, Policy Manager with the Drug Policy Alliance. “Considering that the war on drugs has been devastating in D.C.’s communities of color, we need to reinvest the proceeds generated from marijuana legalization toward restoring them.”

Washington D.C. leads the country in per capita marijuana arrests, doubling that of any other U.S. state. Ninety-one percent of all marijuana arrests are of black people. Between 2001 and 2010, while the number of white people arrested for marijuana has stayed about the same, the number of black people arrested increased to 4,908 from 3,228. Young black men are 10 times more likely to be arrested for drug law violations than white ones, even though white people use and sell marijuana at similar rates.

A diverse group of community organizations, policy reform advocates and faith leaders is calling for an end to marijuana prohibition in the nation’s capital, which has resulted in gross racial disparities in the arrests of marijuana users. They are emphasizing the need to repair the damage done to many African-American communities as a result of this policy by reinvesting resources from taxation and regulation of marijuana into the communities that have suffered the most from its criminalization. Advocates also urge the Council to eliminate collateral consequences of a marijuana arrest and plan for the release of people who are currently incarcerated for marijuana law violations.

"These endorsements further underscore that ending the war on drugs is a civil rights issue of significant importance in the District of Columbia," said Dr. Burnett. “The D.C. Community is coming together to make a strong stand in its commitment to not only ending marijuana prohibition, but to restoring the communities most damaged by these policies,” he added.

The possession of one ounce of marijuana is currently decriminalized in the District of Columbia, and persons found with more than this amount face a $25 civil infraction. However, data from the Metropolitan Police Department reveals that 77 percent of tickets written during decriminalization have been in communities of color.

On Tuesday, the D.C. Council voted to pass a bill that would improve the process by which a person can seal criminal records pertaining to conduct that has since been decriminalized or legalized. The legislation next goes to Mayor Vincent Gray for his review. Advocates are calling this a major step toward acknowledging the stigma and discrimination that people living in the District of Columbia with a marijuana arrest, charge or conviction on their record continue to face.

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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