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

Press Release February 8, 2015
Media Contact

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

D.C. Councilmembers are holding a joint public hearing today on legislation introduced earlier this year that would establish a system that legalizes, taxes and regulates marijuana in the nation’s capital.

The hearing will take place today at 10am in Room 500 of the D.C. Council Chambers at 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. in Washington, D.C. Advocates will provide testimony in support of using the proceeds from legalization toward rebuilding the communities most harmed by the war on drugs.

This hearing comes just a few weeks in advance of the end of the 30-day Congressional review period for Initiative 71, a ballot initiative approved in November 2014 by 70% of District voters that legalized the personal possession of two ounces of marijuana for adults over 21. The District's legalization campaign was the first in the nation in which the racial disproportionality in marijuana enforcement played a major role.

Policy experts and advocates will testify today around the importance of using revenues generated from the taxation of marijuana to redevelop the communities most harmed by the war on drugs.

“Last year the D.C. Council passed the most progressive marijuana decriminalization bill in the country, and it now has the opportunity to set a new high water mark for 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.”

The hearing for the “Marijuana Legalization and Regulation Act of 2015” (Council Bill #21-023), introduced earlier this year by Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large), is being held by Councilmembers Vincent Orange (D-At Large), Jack Evans (D-Ward 3), and Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5).  Councilmember Orange chairs the Committee on Business, Consumer, and Regulatory Affairs; Councilmember Evans chairs the Committee on Finance and Revenue; and Councilmember McDuffie chairs the Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety.

Washington D.C. has led the country in per capita marijuana arrests, doubling that of any other U.S. state — and 91% of the arrests were of black people. Between 2001 and 2010, while the number of white people arrested for marijuana stayed about the same, the number of black people arrested increased to 4,908 from 3,228. In D.C., 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.

In the year-end spending bill passed by Congress, a provision was included that attempts to prevent the District of Columbia from legalizing marijuana. It was the belief of some Republicans that the rider prevented the District’s ballot initiative from taking effect. However, given that the D.C. Board of Elections certified the ballot initiative in advance of the passage of the Congressional spending bill, District officials have made the argument that Initiative 71 was already enacted and have sent the initiative for the requisite 30-day Congressional review. Congress now has the opportunity to formally block the initiative by passing a resolution of disapproval through both the House and the Senate that must also be signed by the President. The 30-day review period is set to expire at the end of February.

District officials are attempting to be proactive in exploring the ramifications of marijuana legalization by holding this hearing. “District officials are complying with the provisions of the Congressional rider by holding this hearing, as these actions don’t enact any new legislation,” said Bill Piper, Director of National Affairs, Drug Policy Alliance. “District officials are taking a responsible approach and supporting the residents of the District by working to create a well-regulated system for marijuana,” he said.

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

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