Marijuana 'Gifting' Businesses Remain Operational After Legislation Fails in DC Council

© Pexels/Lucas Fonesca Marijuana, Lucas Fonseca via Pexels
 Marijuana, Lucas Fonseca via Pexels - Sputnik International, 1920, 05.04.2022
Cannabis has been legal in Washington D.C. since voters overwhelmingly approved Initiative 71 in November 2014. But Congress has outlawed recreational sales in the District through the congressional budget, one of the many reasons local politicians are pushing for statehood for the nation’s capital.
Recreational cannabis “gifting” businesses will continue to operate in Washington DC after the city Council narrowly voted down emergency legislation designed to bring them to heel today.
Medical marijuana sales are legal inside Washington DC, as is gifting cannabis to friends, thanks to initiative 71. This has led to so-called I-71 businesses that sell a different product, such as a candle or a shirt, and then “gift” marijuana to the customer.
Those businesses were targeted by members of the DC council who argue that the practice is illegal, regardless of the loophole, and that they hurt legitimate medical marijuana businesses and growers who are operating in the city.
The emergency initiative would have shut down the I-71 stores for 96 hours and imposed a $30,000 fine on sellers and landlords. May 16 was the proposed deadline for compliance but an amendment would have moved that to August 2. The bill would have also opened up medical marijuana sales to anyone over 21 who “self-certified” that they need marijuana for medical reasons, removing the need for a doctor’s note.
This Aug. 22, 2019 photo shows medical marijuana plants being grown before flowering during a media tour of the Curaleaf medical cannabis cultivation and processing facility in Ravena, N.Y. - Sputnik International, 1920, 01.04.2022
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But I-71 advocates argue their practices are legal and the few licensed medical marijuana dispensaries in the city are not prepared for the market currently served by I-71 businesses.
Multiple council members, on both sides of the issue, lambasted Congress for not allowing DC to govern what happens within its own borders.

“Even with a Democratic Congress and president we still don’t have [the ability to regulate ourselves] and are used as a bargaining chip.” said Councilmember Pinto, who voted for the emergency legislation “I want a city that supports I-71 businesses. People who are outraged should be, but they should be outraged at Congress.”

The council members who opposed the initiative pointed out that enacting civil penalties on I-71 businesses would disproportionately focus on people of color, who are already affected by the larger War on Drugs.

“We all want a marijuana market that is robust and diverse but the people left behind when new markets open are those who lack access to capital,” said At-Large Councilmember Robert C White. “We know people who makeup I-71 businesses are the people who would bear brunt of enforcement if marijuana were still illegal. Putting enforcement aside, we aren’t making a pathway. It is not realistic to expect that Congress will get their act together and the people we are forcing out now will be given a pathway in the future.”

Multiple council members took issue with the emergency aspect of the legislation. “Why go the emergency route when we have a bill in three committees?” At-Large Councilmember Christina Henderson asked. “When we consider the drastic impact of the war on drugs, it is clear there will be a disproportionate effect on people of color. The whole purpose of the Office of Racial Equality is for these issues. Why are we going to use emergency legislation that will bypass that?”
The final vote was 8 - 5 in favor of the ban, but because it was emergency legislation, which bypasses committees, it required nine votes to pass.
Councilmembers Christina Henderson, Janeese Lewis George, Elissa Silverman, Robert C. White Jr and Trayon White Sr (no relation) voted No on the provision.
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