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What Washington D.C. Statehood Could Mean For Cannabis Justice


Last week, the House of Representatives approved legislation to make Washington D.C. the country’s 51st state. The vote, which passed 232-180, would make the District and its 700,000 residents properly and fully represented (though it is very likely it will face serious opposition from the Republican-led Senate). Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton who sponsored H.R.51 (Washington, D.C. Admission Act) stressed that, “the United States is the only democratic country that denies both voting rights in the national legislature and local autonomy to the residents of the nation’s capital.”

Holmes Norton (the non-voting representative for the District) has in recent months called attention to how the District was significantly shorted in federal funding and offered up the idea of a regulated commercial cannabis industry as a way to address that lack of funding and a general budget shortfall as a result of COVID-19. In D.C.’s recent proposed budget, Mayor Muriel Bowser introduced the Medical Marijuana Program Administration Amendment Act of 2020, which would transfer D.C.’s Medical Marijuana and Integrative Therapy program from the Department of Health (DOH) to the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA). As a result, if a commercialized cannabis industry were to come to D.C., it would be able to move much faster by already transferring its program over to ABRA for regulatory purposes.

It’s the Home Rule Act of 1973 that gives the United States Congress authority over Washington D.C. legislation. For example, it was the Home Rule Act that prevented D.C. from going beyond simply legalizing cannabis but creating a regulated and taxed recreational cannabis industry (even though the District’s voters overwhelmingly supported such a system). Statehood would make it much easier for D.C. to among many other things, finally have its own commercial cannabis industry without needing Congress’ permission.

In the meantime, while cannabis reform inches along, people continue to be jammed up in the system for cannabis and cannabis-related charges (for example, cannabis-related arrests in D.C. have continued during legalization and have been disproportionately black). As The Outlaw Report has noted, Virginia law enforcement in the months leading up to cannabis decriminalization continues to charge people for cannabis. Even as of the end of June, just days away from the July 1 date in which possession of up to one ounce of cannabis becomes officially decriminalized. Last week’s Sheriff’s Blotter for Virginia’s Stafford County even highlighted a cannabis possession charge among a list of other crimes committed including fraud, larceny, and vandalism.

According to the Stafford County Blotter, on June 24 a little after six in the morning, a 48 year-old man was stopped for a traffic violation. The sergeant who pulled the man over claimed he smelled cannabis and saw a joint in the man’s center console. From there, the man’s car was searched and the Blotter said, “a sandwich baggie of suspected marijuana was also located in the vehicle.” The man, according to the Blotter, “was released on summonses for the traffic violation and possession of marijuana.” So exactly one week before Virginia decriminalization takes effect, a man was charged with cannabis possession. 

The man who was arrested (The Outlaw Report is choosing not to print the man’s name because it is irrelevant and in a week the “crime” he committed isn’t even a crime) by the way, is a Washington, D.C. resident. In D.C.,as readers know, cannabis has been legalized since 2014. So in short, a man who resides in an area where cannabis is legal was charged with possessing cannabis in a state where just a few days possession of up to one ounce would result in a civil citation.

Image by Lukasz Stefanski / via Shutterstock

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