The D.C. Council voted Tuesday to approve a permanent ban on marijuana clubs in the capital, in a move activists say is both unnecessary and counter to the idea of legislative autonomy in the District.
Advocates of greater marijuana legalization largely expected the Council to approve the ban, which passed last week in an initial reading of the legislation. But the 7-6 vote showed sharp division among Council members.
Many support Mayor Muriel Bowser’s recent efforts to push for D.C. statehood and autonomy from Congress, but others argued it would be impossible to further liberalize marijuana laws until Congress lifts the ban on the city from taxing and regulating the substance.
“With today’s vote, the Council signaled to Congress that they may freely interfere with District autonomy,” Kaitlyn Boecker, policy coordinator for the Drug Policy Alliance, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “In spite of all the talk of promoting District autonomy and control over local affairs, today’s vote suggests that Council members would prefer to hide behind congressional authority to deflect their responsibilities, rather than do the work of legislating themselves.”
Much of the sharp criticism stems from the fact that a task force, approved by the Council in February, is conducting an ongoing review to study how marijuana clubs could be implemented. The introduction of a permanent ban last week caught many activists off guard, as it contradicts the Council’s earlier position.
“By passing this bill the Council has turned its back on marijuana reform,” Boecker told TheDCNF. “Rather than waiting for it’s own Mayor-appointed task force to recommend a thoughtful path forward on regulated venues, Council members led by Chairman Phil Mendelson pushed forward an unnecessary and poorly-drafted blanket ban that cannot be amended or revoked due to a Congressional rider.”
Tuesday’s vote coincided with the first town hall meeting hosted by the task force to discuss their initial findings with the community. (RELATED: DC’s Legalized Weed Is One-Year Old, And Crime Has Cratered)
The decision is expected to galvanize activists, who appeared to be making progress on marijuana policy reform in the District. Last year voters passed a ballot measure legalizing up to two ounces for private home consumption, but Congress swiftly moved to ban the city from taxing or regulating it.
Council President Phil Mendelson says Tuesday’s vote does not close the issue, and allows the Council to revisit the law at a later date.
“With legislation in this area, whatever we do today we will revisit,” Mendelson told The Washington Times. “And in my mind we should revisit. The task force has plenty it can do. It has a broad mandate.”
Activists are gathering in D.C. Saturday for the National Cannabis Festival, bringing together various groups working to legalize marijuana nationally. It is unclear how activists plan to proceed in the District.
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