D.C. Council Moves Ahead With Marijuana Legalization In The Nation’s Capital

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA:  Last Tuesday, three weeks after voters in Washington, D.C., overwhelmingly voted to legalize marijuana in the nation’s capital, the District of Columbia Council took an important step toward carrying out that mandate. The council’s Committee on Business, Consumer, and Regulatory Affairs approved legislation that charges D.C.’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) with licensing and regulating marijuana producers and retailers. ABRA would have six months to write the regulations, after which it would begin accepting license applications, so recreational cannabis stores could open in 2016 if the council approves final legislation by next spring and Congress does not try to stop the process.

The plan to license cannabusinesses, part of a billintroduced last year by Council Member David Grosso, actually goes beyond the provisions of Initiative 71, the ballot measure that passed on November 4 with support from 69.5 percent of voters. Other sections of Grosso’s bill would eliminate penalties for possessing two ounces or less of marijuana, for growing up to six plants at home, and for transferring small amounts to other adults without payment, as called for by Initiative 71. Because of legal restrictions on changes that can be made by ballot measure, the initiative did not address commercial production and distribution.

Grosso’s bill would combine medical and recreational marijuana into one industry regulated by ABRA, but it would impose a lower sales tax on marijuana purchased by patients with doctor’s recommendations: 6 percent, as opposed to 15 percent for recreational consumers. By comparison, Colorado is collecting a 15 percent excise tax plus a 10 percent sales tax on recreational marijuana, while Washington state imposes a 25 percent tax at each of three levels.