MAYOR MURIEL E. BOWSER’S proposal to legalize and regulate the sale of marijuana might well lead to a confrontation with Congress. So be it. The current law that allows D.C. residents to grow and possess, but not to purchase, small amounts of cannabis makes no sense. The city is barred from collecting taxes that have benefited states with regulated sales, and the inability to monitor the practices and products of the market puts the public’s safety at risk.
Ms. Bowser, a Democrat, has introduced legislation that aims to end the years of legal limbo that surround marijuana use in the nation’s capital. Under a 2014 ballot measure overwhelmingly approved by voters, low-level possession and home cultivation of marijuana are allowed. But because of a rider inserted into a D.C. spending bill by House Republicans, the city is barred from enacting or enforcing marijuana legalization laws.
The hypocrisy of a party that professes to stand for local control and rails against overreach by the federal government is stunning. “Cynical and stupid” was how advocates for marijuana legalization aptly described Congress’s meddling into authorities that are simply taken for granted by states, a number of which have legalized marijuana and authorized retail sales. The effect of the interference has been confusion about what is allowed and the emergence of a cottage industry that uses “gifts” as workarounds to the restriction on sales.
Republicans leading the charge against the District warn that officials are at risk of violating federal law by drafting legislation while the budget restrictions are in effect. D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine in 2015 said city employees might face legal jeopardy under the federal Anti-Deficiency Act, but he has since revised his opinion, concluding that introduction of legislation and holding hearings do not constitute enactment of legislation and thus don’t violate the law. That Democrats now control the House has emboldened the District in its efforts to remove the restrictions, and there is some hope of removing the rider in upcoming budget negotiations.
That’s more reason for the District to start deliberations on the mayor’s 69-page Safe Cannabis Sales Act. What has been the experience of other cities? Is there risk of the District becoming a marijuana destination? Are there sufficient protections for neighborhoods? These are important questions, and it should be left to the city’s locally elected officials to come up with the answers.