DC Council considers legislation to create a restorative recreational cannabis industry

photo by Add Weed on Unsplash

Today, DC Council will hear from the public about two pieces of legislation that will impact the future of cannabis policy in the District: The Medical Cannabis Amendment Act of 2021 and the Comprehensive Cannabis Legalization and Regulation Act of 2021. One would expand the medical cannabis market and the other would legalize and regulate the sale of recreational cannabis. With both, lawmakers can begin to atone for the injustices of the racist War on Drugs, which fueled over policing and mass incarceration of Black and brown people. 

The Medical Cannabis Amendment Act of 2021, the most likely of the two to be enacted first, would allow all returning citizens to work within a medical dispensary and authorize those with only certain felony convictions the opportunity to obtain ownership within medical dispensaries, cultivation centers, and testing facilities. This is an important step towards building an inclusive cannabis industry that prioritizes repairing the devastating impacts of criminalization on returning citizens.  

The Comprehensive Cannabis Legalization and Regulation Act of 2021 would create a recreational cannabis industry in the District and is arguably the best legislation of its kind in the nation. Historically, Congress has used a rider in the federal budget to prevent DC from legalizing the sale of recreational cannabis. However, in October, Senate Democrats removed the rider language from their package of spending bills. If Congress approves the federal budget in December without the rider, DC would be clear to move forward with legalization. The Comprehensive Cannabis bill would usher in a restorative and racially inclusive industry for the Black and brown communities most harmed by criminalization and the failed War on Drugs.  

If passed, the bill would:   

  • automatically expunge most cannabis-related arrests, prosecutions, and convictions;   
  • set aside half of all available licenses created by the bill to social equity program participants (this is defined as DC residents who have resided for at least ten of the last 20 years in a disproportionately impacted area or have been arrested or convicted of any offense that is eligible for expungement under this bill and/or are members of an impacted family); and,  
  • devote 30 percent of recreational cannabis sales tax revenue to a fund to support individual social equity program applicants.   

However, the bill can do more to ensure those most harmed by cannabis criminalization have equitable opportunities to thrive and prosper. In the District, Black people made up 89 percent of all cannabis-related arrests between 2015 and 2019 despite representing less than half of DC’s population. If designed well, this legislation will create more equity and, in some areas, restorative measures for the damage caused by past cannabis policy. Read full testimony from today’s hearing from Senior Policy Analyst Doni Crawford and State Policy Fellow Michael Johnson Jr. for detailed recommendations on how DC Council can make this legislation even stronger. 

For live updates from the hearing, follow along on Twitter!