Advocate Weighs in on D.C.’s Dueling Legalization Bills

Over the past few weeks, Mayor Muriel Bowser and D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson have both introduced dueling bills allowing for a commercial regulated cannabis market in the District. The bills suggest the commercial cannabis industry that has eluded the District since 2014—when Initiative 71 passed but the Harris Rider prevented regulated adult use—could happen soon. But Adam Eidinger of D.C. Marijuana Justice has some concerns about the bills. Under both bills, selling cannabis without a license would be illegal.

“As it stands now [the bills] will not convert the so-called illicit sales of cannabis, it will ultimately stay underground,” Eidinger told The Outlaw Report. “Let’s actually get this right.”

Also according to both bills, distribution of cannabis in exchange for advocacy would constitute a sale and be rendered illegal. Eidinger distributed joints during the 2017 inauguration and helped organize “Joints For Jabs,” to encourage COVID-19 vaccinations by distributing joints to people after they are inoculated.

“[D.C. Marijuana Justice] operates with no money, is simply a free speech organization and advocacy organization,” Eidinger said. “[DCMJ’s advocacy] would actually become criminalized by both the mayor and the chairman’s legislation.”

Eidinger wants to see a change to the provision that accounts for advocacy. To rectify the language, Eidinger said he would suggest adding a requirement that money be exchanged during advocacy for the distribution remain illegal but not giving away cannabis.

“It shall be unlawful to give cannabis or cannabis products for free to a person in exchange for their purchasing another item or service, making a donation, engaging in advocacy, joining a club or organization, or paying a cover charge for a party or event,” Mendelson’s bill reads. “Such a transaction shall constitute a sale of cannabis and shall be unlawful without a license.”

Both bills’ authors have said their proposed legislation would make the sale of cannabis more equitable through the addition of licenses for micro-cannabis growers, a definition Eidinger questions.

“This bill has things for large producers, but they’re calling them ‘micro-producers’ which I would just call ‘small businesses,’” Eidinger said. “Because then it’s still going to cost a lot of money to set up one of those businesses.”

While he has no objection to Mendelson’s proposed changes to improve equity related to micro-growers, Eidinger said he would like to see a license to sell cannabis on a smaller scale, for “cottage industry” cannabis, in which it would not be the person’s sole source of income.

The licensing fee for a micro-producer in Bowser’s bill is $3,000, plus an initial fee of $500. For Mendelson’s bill, a micro-producer licensing fee is half of cost of the fees other licensees pay ($5,000 to $7,000), plus an initial fee of $1,000, although they can apply for a 75% discount on license application fees and annual licensing fees if they meet the requirements of social equity applicants.

Eidinger also said that the 10-ounce limit prevents him from supporting Bowser’s bill because he said, it would limit home cultivation freedoms. Bowser’s Safe Cannabis Sales Act of 2021 would “prohibit an excess of 10 ounces of cannabis that has been cut from the cannabis plant to be stored within or at a residence.” Bowser’s 2019 version of the bill also included the 10-ounce limit. Mendelson’s Comprehensive Cannabis Legalization and Regulation Act of 2021 does not limit how much cannabis someone can have in a residence.

“There should be no limit on how much cannabis you have in your home,” Eidinger said. “If there was a limit, I would say it should be 10 pounds.” 

10 pounds, he explained, would “represent” what a home grower could gather from the growing season and be enough for two adults for a year.

Earlier this month on Mar. 9, Eidinger said he virtually met with Mendelson’s staff and left the meeting with the impression that the Council Chair might consider amending the bill to address some of D.C. Marijuana Justice’s concerns.

Mendelson’s bill is “workable,” Eidinger said, and Eidinger is hopeful about possible amendments to Mendelson’s bill.

“[The bill] could be turned into something a lot better than it is, and we can all celebrate. We’re not trying to eliminate the business provisions,” Eidinger said. 

Mendelson, whose bill is more likely to gain traction, has not yet made changes to the bill because markups and hearings have yet to occur, a staff member told The Outlaw Report.

“I don’t think they’ve really thought about it enough in the context of ‘How do you convert the existing gray market that everyone thinks is a problem?’,” Eidinger said.

Illustration by Kathy Wyche

Advocate Weighs in on D.C.’s Dueling Legalization Bills

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