D.C. Council plans how the city would roll out marijuana legalization, pending Election Day vote

Council member Jack Evans hears testimony on marijuana legalization in D.C.  Dan Rich | Hatchet Photographer
Council member Jack Evans hears testimony on marijuana legalization in D.C.
Dan Rich | Hatchet Photographer

This post was written by Hatchet reporter Regina Park. 

D.C. voters haven’t decided whether they will back legalizing marijuana at the polls next week, but D.C. Council held a joint public hearing to plan out its potential roll out.

Planning how to legalize the use and possession of up to two ounces of marijuana in a city would need a lot of collaboration across departments and organizations, Council members said. The Committee on Business, Consumer and Regulatory Affairs and the Committee on Finance and Revenue heard opinions about the consequences of legalizing the drug through the ballot referendum.

Council member Jack Evans, who represents Foggy Bottom, and Council member Vincent Orange led the hearing, which heard from policy makers, marijuana activists and other Council members. Here are the three biggest takeaways from the hearing.

1. A potentially complex roll out

Most of the hearing focused on the details of how marijuana legalization would be implemented in D.C. if the measure were to pass on Election Day.

Council members and experts discussed whether marijuana would be taxed at the same rate as alcohol in D.C., and Orange asked if the packaging and sale of the drug would also reflect the policies in place for alcohol.

The hearing also focused on the policies other states that have legalized marijuana have dealt with the rollout of the law.

“Marijuana legalization is a policy that has become very popular among policy makers.” Robert J. Capecchi, Deputy Director of State Policies of the Marijuana Policy Project, said. “A vast majority of the states are considering legalization of marijuana.”

2. Extra income for the city

The marijuana market in D.C. would be a $130 million industry, according to The Washington Post. If marijuana is legalized, Evans said the taxes levied from marijuana could add some surplus cash to the state budget.

“Taxes on marijuana could be nearly $20 million a year.” Evans said.

Malik Burnett, policy manager of the Drug Policy Alliance, said the money should aid development in the largely African American neighborhoods hit hardest by marijuana arrests.

“Nine out of ten people arrested for possession of marijuana were African Americans,” he said.

3. The effect on youth

Some Council members like Orange, who chairs the Committee on Business, Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, voiced concern over whether legalization would send the message that marijuana use was not harmful to those under 21.

“Can we legalize marijuana without sending the message to youths that it’s risk-free?” he said.

Orange also said there are still harmful health effects for those using marijuana, citing a weakened immune systems and memory loss.

Council member At-Large David Grosso, who sponsored the referendum, countered and said the city could use the revenue gained from taxes on the drug to fund education programs about the negative impacts of marijuana.

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