D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser on Thursday sent emergency legislation to the D.C. Council to prohibit nightclubs, private membership clubs and virtually any other city-registered business from providing a venue for social marijuana smoking.
The legislation is an attempt to rein in one aspect of the city’s newly enacted marijuana legalization law that Bowser (D) has said could produce confusion — and, potentially, more public use of the drug then she believes was intended under the ballot measure approved by voters.
The law allows those 21 or over to possess up to two ounces of marijuana. But Congress blocked the city from adopting laws to regulate buying and selling — meaning that those activities are still illegal. And current laws that ban smoking pot outdoors or in public places remain in effect.
Some advocates for legalization said the language about whether D.C. businesses could close for private events and allow marijuana smoking was vague. They also said the initiative could allow the formation of “cannabis clubs,” like those prevalent in Spain, which offer membership fees and access to the drug.
Bowser’s legislation seeks to make sure none of that happens, mostly by defining broadly the public space where smoking will remain prohibited. The bill uses the same definition that is part of the city’s 2014 decriminalization law: anywhere the “public is invited.”
It says public space includes “any building, facility, or premise used to operate by an organization or association for . . . a fraternal, social, educational or recreational purpose.”
The legislation, which several council members have said they are inclined to support, would give the mayor the power to revoke the business license, certificate of occupancy and other city permit of any business where marijuana is smoked or consumed. If approved by the council, which meets next on Tuesday, it would take effect immediately.
Nikolas Schiller, spokesman for the D.C. Cannabis Campaign, questioned whether the proposed legislation was overly broad and added that the campaign’s attorneys would review it.
In the meantime, the District’s first day as a jurisdiction where pot is legal passed fairly quietly, although with moments of quirky drama.
Adam Eidinger, chairman of the D.C. Cannabis Campaign, invited reporters to his campaign headquarters to watch him plant marijuana seeds and smoke.
“It feels great. It feels like freedom,” Eidinger said as he legally inhaled and exhaled. He declined to specify how he acquired the marijuana that filled the joint he was smoking other than to say it was a gift from friends.
The District’s law allows residents to grow up to six marijuana plants at home — three mature ones at a time. Eidinger placed the seeds for his six plants in front of the cameras.
“I kind of feel like the Martha Stewart of marijuana,” he said. “Planting a seed is a symbolic act. I hope these seeds will last.”
Despite the many restrictions included in the law, police in the District reported no arrests Thursday of people smoking in public or trying to buy the drug.
“No arrests for any marijuana-type charges today,” said Lt. Sean Conboy, a D.C. police spokesman. U.S. Park Police, responsible for the federal parkland that makes up a quarter of the District’s real estate, also reported no arrests, and police in several Maryland and Virginia jurisdictions bordering the District reported no impact on operations.
“It doesn’t change the way we do business,” said Crystal Nosal, an Alexandria police spokeswoman. “No laws in Virginia have changed.”
Schiller, the Cannabis Campaign spokesman, said organizers of the successful D.C. ballot measure chose not to hold a public party to celebrate their victory for fear of drawing potentially negative media attention.
“A long time ago, we decided there would be no large events with people smoking,” Schiller said. “It was one of those quiet victories to be celebrated in back yards and in living rooms.”
A tweet by the campaign urged D.C. residents to enjoy marijuana responsibly and respect the law’s provisions that prohibit smoking in public. “Cannabis is officially legal in the District of Columbia. A big thank u to everyone who helped make history. Celebrate responsibly! #i71,” it read.
Earlier this week, D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said all officers would be trained by midnight Thursday on the law, and she issued a nine-page special order guiding them on how and when they can arrest people on marijuana charges.
But Delroy Burton, chairman of the D.C. police union, said officers — whose enforcement of marijuana violations plummeted last year when the city decriminalized possession of small amounts — are finding some of the rules confusing.
For example, it can be difficult to determine whether small amounts of marijuana are over or under the two-ounce limit, Burton said. He noted other potentially complicated factors dealing with age requirements and the prohibition on officers using smell as a pretext to stop someone suspected of smoking in a forbidden space.
“Unless someone is doing illegal distribution or mass cultivation, we probably won’t be doing anything about it,” said Burton, who earlier warned that the lack of regulations could turn the District into the “Wild Wild West.”
“We don’t care one way or the other what the law is. We just care that rules are clear so we know what to do. And right now, the rules aren’t that clear.”
Lynh Bui, Perry Stein and Matt Zapotosky contributed to this report.