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Proposed D.C. Budget Could Help Commercial Cannabis Happen Sooner


Washington, D.C. mayor Muriel Bowser released the 2021 budget plan last week and amid the hundreds of pages of adjustments, new investments, and proposed cuts about the proposed $16.7 billion budget is some language that as Marijuana Moment reported, “sets the stage” for the commercial cannabis industry that has eluded the District since legalization.

Through the Medical Marijuana Program Administration Amendment Act of 2020, D.C.’s Medical Marijuana and Integrative Therapy program would be transferred from the Department of Health (DOH) to the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA). In total, the bill would move $360,000 in local funds, $597,000 in special purposes revenue, and six full-time positions from DOH to ABRA. The bill also intends to create a permanent Medical Cannabis Administration Fund which would, “collect all funds received from medical cannabis licensing, permitting, and registration fees. The fees are currently being collected in the Other Medical Licenses and Fees Fund.”

This is major news for cannabis advocates even if it is ultimately a bill that would only make it a little easier for a commercial industry. The bill itself doesn’t establish a commercial industry but transferring D.C.’s medical cannabis program to ABRA would make it easier for the program to be regulated if a commercial industry were to be created. Back in 2019, Bowser proposed the Safe Cannabis Sales Act of 2019, which would have established the commercial sale of cannabis.

That bill had proposed transferring the cannabis program from DOH to ABRA as well.  A press release announcing that 2019 bill mentioned Bowser’s “commitment to fulfill the wishes of D.C. voters when they overwhelmingly passed Initiative 71, which legalized adult possession and home use of marijuana.” But then, as The Outlaw Report readers likely know, Maryland Congressional Representative Andy Harris interfered by introducing a rider which prevented D.C. from using local money to establish a commercial industry.

But unlike the 2019 bill which was announced by Bowser’s office, the Medical Marijuana Program Administration Amendment Act of 2020 is included among numerous Washington, D.C. budget documents (most of which can be found here). It is found in the 39-page memorandum from D.C.’s Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey S. Dewitt, detailing the “Fiscal Year 2021 Budget Support Act of 2020,” and was first spotted by WAMU reporter Martin Austermuhle

By transferring the medicinal cannabis program from the Department of Health to the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration, it would, once a commercial industry was established, eliminate some steps to establish commercial regulations.

Coverage of Bowser’s budget focused on the staggering amount of lost revenue due to COVID-19 and this budget’s reckoning with that loss. D.C.’s CFO DeWitt has projected nearly $800 million in losses for the 2020 and 2021 fiscal years. And Washington, D.C. was provided less financial assistance than many states because it is considered a territory, so it was shorted by $750 million. Commercial cannabis sales would bring in much-needed revenue for D.C., which currently operates with a medicinal cannabis industry and a “gray” market which allows only for the gifting of cannabis.

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