SINCE IT hasn’t even been a year since marijuana was legalized in the District, one would think (or hope, at least) that officials would tread carefully before making any drastic changes in the new and untested status quo. So the D.C. Council’s recent antics about further relaxing controls on pot do not exactly inspire confidence. Indeed, they are cause for concern.
At issue is how the council flip-flopped Tuesday on whether to lift a ban on pot smoking outside private homes, at such venues as rooftop bars, sidewalk patios and other places deemed to be private marijuana clubs. The council first voted 7 to 6 to keep the restrictions in place, but a supermajority of nine votes was needed; then Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) called council members to remind them of the unique problems the District faces in policing marijuana use. Her warning that the city would have no way to rein in open pot use if the rules were relaxed prompted two members to switch their votes.
There’s no question that the District is in a difficult spot. Voters overwhelmingly approved an initiative, in effect since February, that allows D.C. residents and visitors 21 years and older to possess up to two ounces of marijuana and grow it at home. But Congress blocked the District from adopting laws to regulate the buying and selling of the drug and from using local tax revenue for enforcement of looser marijuana laws. That ambiguity for law enforcement prompted enactment of the outside-the-home ban last year with a unanimous council vote. However, the measure was adopted as emergency legislation until a permanent bill could be fashioned.
We agree that Congress should not meddle in local affairs, but it is simply irresponsible for council members who chafe against that interference to turn a blind eye to possible problems. Council member Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5) is exactly right that the District needs to work gradually and responsibly toward a tax-and-regulate regime before opening the door to “unintended consequences,” including from Congress. There’s some talk of tapping into the city’s reserves to get around the congressional prohibition. But does the District really want to make the argument — to Wall Street as well as D.C. taxpayers — that the best use of surplus cash is facilitating marijuana use?
The Judiciary Committee chaired by Mr. McDuffie is under pressure from the council majority to come up with a permanent solution for regulating marijuana possession within four weeks; if not, the ban on public use could be revisited. We have to ask, what’s the rush? Are council members looking out for the best interests of residents or simply responding to pressure from politically astute marijuana activists?
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