Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Washington, D.C. Council Chairman Introduces Cannabis Legislation


Despite being known for its liberal policies, Washington, D.C. still doesn’t have a recreational market. But that could be about to change. 

Council Chairman Phil Mendleson proposed a new, recreational cannabis regulation bill that focused on progress and equity. The bill is also supported by Kenyan McDuffie, Charles Allen, Brianne Nadeau, Brooke Pinto, Christina Henderson, and Mary Cheh, and the focus is deliberately on equity because of the issues the cannabis industry has with inclusion, and the negative impact the war on drugs has on people of color. 

“This legislation is the culmination of over a year of work by my office and external stakeholders,” Mendelson said about the newly proposed legislation. “It creates a comprehensive regulatory framework for the cultivation, production, and sale of recreational cannabis and most significantly, this bill centers reinvestment and opportunity for people and communities hit hardest by the War on Drugs.”

Equity, Justice, Education

This new plan, known as the “Comprehensive Cannabis Legalization and Regulation Act of 2021,” would establish a social equity program, and would make sure that at least half of all those with licensed businesses are equity applicants. Those eligible for equity applicant status would be folks who were formerly convicted of cannabis offenses or residents from areas with high rates of poverty that have been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs. 

The bill will also set up a cannabis equity and opportunity fund in order to fund those who are eligible for social equity status. As long as cannabis remains federally illegal, it will be difficult to access cannabis funding and support through traditional channels, so the support for equity applicants is essential to make sure they can actually participate in the legal industry. Thirty percent of the tax money generated from cannabis sales will go into this fund. 

Some of the tax money generated will also go to a community reinvestment program fund that will give grants to organizations that deal with things like homelessness, legal aid, and support for youth in impoverished areas. The fund will be supported by 50 percent of cannabis tax money. 

In addition, the proposal recognizes how important education is to a well-rounded cannabis program. Public education will be provided to teach residents of D.C. what the law does and does and does not allow, and there will be programs in place to educate youth and make sure they stay away from cannabis until they are of legal age. 

Continuing the social equity theme, legal cannabis in D.C. would also mean automatic expungement for those who have been convicted for cannabis possession. There would also be a movement to resentence those who are currently serving time due to cannabis. 

Lastly, citizen cannabis users would be protected, as it would be unlawful for them to lose benefits, employment, or access to resources for being recreational cannabis users. Banks would also be granted licenses so they could work with the industry. 

This cannabis proposal is similar to the one proposed recently by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, entitled the Safe Cannabis Sales Act of 2021. If either of these pass, most advocates would be getting what they want in terms of equity and access. 

If D.C. does follow through and legalize, this would be one of the most comprehensive and equitable cannabis programs to be established in the U.S.



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