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Ballot Initiative in Washington D.C. Pushes For Cannabis Industry in the District


Back in 2014, when Washington D.C. residents took to the voting booth to declare that indeed they wanted cannabis legal in the District (through home growing and the decriminalization of low-level possession), most didn’t think that a regulated cannabis industry, the messier second half of legalization, would be this far behind. Yet here D.C. is in the middle of 2020, still trying to work its way around anti-cannabis Congressman Andy Harris’ rider that prevented cannabis sales and again it would likely be up to D.C. voters—who already voted for legalization and a commercial industry.

The New Modern Day Cannabis Justice Reform Act, is being pushed by Modern Day Cannabis Justice Reform and according to MDCJR’s website, the initiative would stop prosecution for cannabis growing, dealing, and using; prevent police from using the presence of cannabis to search people; and expunge all cannabis convictions. 

Reading the text of the initiative also makes its anti-drug war, police reform stance quite clear as it invokes the end of fraught—and often illegal—police procedures such as “stop and frisk,” the troubling use of warrants (most famously, the death of Breonna Taylor, killed by police during a “no knock” warrant), and the return of all items seized by police tied to cannabis investigations.

According to MDCJR executive director Dawn Lee-Carty, the ballot measure would hopefully show up on November’s ballot if they can gather enough signatures (they would need 24,835 signatures) and if they are approved by the Board of Elections. As Marijuana Moment reported, “the Board of Elections is scheduled to meet to determine whether the initiative meets the standards of relevant subject matter for initiatives on September 2.”

For Outlaw Report readers, the ballot initiative should recall the successful bid by Decriminalize Nature D.C. to get Initiative 81—the Entheogenic Plant and Fungus Policy Act of 2020—which would decriminalize psychedelics on the ballot in November. That campaign was successful (amid a pandemic no less) with Initiative 81 gathering almost 35,000 signatures. It would be safe to assume that if support for psychedelics is that significant, that support for a commercial cannabis industry in D.C. would be even larger. Outlaw Report readers may also recall that like 2014’s cannabis reform attempts, Congressman Harris has attempted to get the Initiative removed before it was even approved, let alone voted on by D.C. voters.

Presumably, the New Modern Day Cannabis Justice Reform Act would run into the same problem that the Harris rider introduced in 2014—that a commercial industry could not happen because cannabis being a Schedule I substance means local tax dollars can’t be used towards the sale of cannabis—though it seems that those behind the initiative will get to that when they get to it.

The full text of the initiative shows that the New Modern Day Cannabis Justice Reform Act not only reduces the policing of cannabis and makes a commercial cannabis industry possible in D.C, but it also protects the industry from some Big Cannabis outsiders by declaring that someone must live in D.C. for two years before they can be involved in the sale of cannabis, won’t allow vertical integration (so cannabis companies cannot enter and handle both growing and selling), and stipulates diversity as a requirement for Execution Board Members.

Illustration by Kathy Wyche

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