washington dc marijuana decriminalization
Ending Marijuana Prohibition

Senate Appropriations Committee Allows Marijuana Legalization To Move Forward In DC

washington dc marijuana decriminalizationA key Senate committee passed a bill today allowing the nation’s capital to establish regulated marijuana stores and let banks provide financial services to state-legalized marijuana dispensaries. These are just two of several marijuana reforms advancing in Congress.  Meanwhile sentencing reform is gaining steam, and the U.S. is shifting towards treating drug use as a health issue instead of a criminal justice issue.

“The stage has been set to end the federal government’s failed war on marijuana,” said Michael Collins, policy manager at Drug Policy Alliance’s Office of National Affairs. “A bi-partisan consensus has emerged in favor of reform.”

Last November nearly 72% of D.C. voters approved a ballot measure making it legal to possess and grow marijuana for personal use. The campaign to pass Initiative 71 was driven by public demands to end racially-biased enforcement of marijuana laws and was seen as the first step at taking marijuana out of the illicit market. A broad base of community support from multiple civil rights organizations, faith leaders and community advocacy groups supported Initiative 71, viewing it as an opportunity to restore the communities most harmed by the war on drugs.

After a political tug-of-war House Republican leadership was able to push through a controversial spending amendment that prohibited D.C. from legalizing and regulating marijuana sales, but the amendment allowed Initiative 71 to take effect. Thus, it is legal to possess, use, and grow marijuana in the nation’s capital but the sale of marijuana remains illicit and unregulated. D.C. officials, police, and drug policy experts have complained that Congress is undermining public safety by preventing the city from regulating marijuana, with some calling the situation “the dealer protection act.”

The Financial Services spending bill adopted by the Senate Appropriations Committee today deletes the congressional ban. If the bill becomes law, D.C. could finally regulate marijuana – setting time and place restrictions, requiring proper labeling and content control, establishing age restrictions, and taxing marijuana and using the proceeds for treatment, education, and rebuilding communities devastated by the failed war on drugs. While the House funding bill contains language restricting sales, the Obama Administration’s budget included language that would allow DC to move forward with regulated sales. A funding deal is expected to be hashed out by the House, Senate, and the Administration later this year.

The Senate Appropriations Committee also overwhelmingly approved, 16 to 14, an amendment today by Senators Merkley (D-OR) and Murray (D-WA) allowing banks to provide services to marijuana stores in localities where marijuana is legal.  Currently, because marijuana is illegal under federal law, both medical and non-medical marijuana businesses are unable to access banking services like any other business. Consequently, many marijuana businesses operate on a cash-only basis, leading to huge public safety issues as businesses become the target of robberies, and are forced to hire armed security to protect their takings. Conducting business in all cash also makes it difficult for regulators and police to oversee marijuana businesses, track money, ensure people are paying taxes, and keep the marijuana industry transparent and accountable. By allowing marijuana stores to have access to checking accounts, credit cards, payroll companies and other financial services the Merkley amendment improves public safety and oversight.

Progress on D.C. and banking issues is just the latest victory for the Drug Policy Alliance and the marijuana reform movement:

  • The U.S. House voted five times last year to let states set their own marijuana policies (once on medical marijuana, twice on hemp, and twice on marijuana and banking).
  • A medical marijuana amendment made it into the final spending bill last year that Obama signed into law – marking the first time Congress has rolled back marijuana prohibition in any significant way.
  • This year the U.S. House has already voted four times to let states set their own marijuana policies (twice on medical marijuana, twice on hemp).
  • Another  House amendment allowing states to legalize marijuana like alcohol without federal interference failed by only nine votes, a stunning outcome considering it was the first time Congress has ever voted on outright repealing marijuana prohibition.
  • In addition to passing the banking amendment and removing the D.C. ban, the Senate Appropriations Committee has approved three other marijuana amendments this year – allowing Veterans Administration doctors to recommend marijuana to their patients, prohibiting the DEA from undermining state medical marijuana laws, and prohibiting the DEA from undermining state hemp research laws.

23 states have legalized marijuana for medical use – and an additional 16 states have legalized CBD oils, a non-psychotropic component of marijuana that has proven uniquely effective in managing epileptic seizures that afflict children. Four states have legalized marijuana like alcohol – Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington.

Reform of U.S. drug policy is also moving forward in other areas:

  • Dozens of states have reformed their drug sentencing laws in recent years and there’s now a bipartisan and strong consensus that Congress should reform federal drug laws with the goal of reducing the number of people in federal prison.
  • There is growing support on both the left and right for reforming federal civil asset forfeiture laws which allow police to take and keep the property of people suspected of committing drug law offenses without having to conviction them or even charge them with a crime.
  • Both the House and Senate are moving forward with spending bills that would partially repeal the federal ban prohibiting states from using their share of HIV/AIDS prevention money on syringe exchange programs.
  • The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) chief was forced to step down this year following a series of embarrassing scandals and statements where she demonstrated how out of touch she was on drug policy reform. The White House has signaled that the new DEA chief agency will deemphasize marijuana enforcement.
  • 28 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws (known as “911 Good Samaritan” laws) that provide protection from arrest and prosecution for certain drug law violations for witnesses at the scene of an overdose who call 911 for emergency medical assistance.  
  • The White House recently co-hosted a day-long conference on “Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion,” or LEAD, a policy that allows police to direct drug offenders to treatment or other supportive services instead of incarcerating them. It is operational in Seattle, Washington and Santa Fe, New Mexico. In June Albany, New York became the third city to adopt LEAD.

The next 16 months is the biggest opportunity yet for ending the war on drugs. Voters in a number of states could vote on legalizing marijuana, including Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, Ohio and Nevada. Several cities could move forward with implementing a LEAD-like program, including possibly Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Houston, New Orleans, and San Francisco. Congress could finally overhaul federal drug laws.

“At this point, it’s probably only a question of when, not if, the failed war on drugs will come to an end,” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “We basically tore a page out of the campaign playbook for repealing alcohol Prohibition – get state after state to adopt reform and then force the federal government to change.”

Source: Drug Policy Alliancemake a donation

  • Tree

    “Let’s Roll”?

  • Doc Deadhead

    Onward…..through the fog! A boatload of baby steps can change a nation.

  • jontomas

    Dragging a nation full of prohibition profiteers kicking and screaming to justice!

  • Lawrence Goodwin

    The Drug Policy Alliance does great work and its members have my utmost support in their efforts toward progress. Last year, I actually had the great honor of meeting Gabriel Sayegh, who lobbies very effectively in Albany, New York–most recently to implement that NY capital city’s own Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program (Sayegh prefers to spell his name in lowercase, but I was trained as a writer to rely on proper English). Yet, with all due respect, I’m rather perplexed by the DPA’s constant use of the propaganda term “marijuana.” I’m not trying to split hairs here. It’s just that an organization of its stature and size, I think, would be more effective using the botanical, historically accurate terms Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica. Americans are not dumb. They can understand why these two primary Cannabis varieties have always been grown in the United States, and why so many federal, state and local officials took it upon themselves for so long to wage war on the growers of PLANTS. It’s been reported that only sativas make the best hemp for manufacture and food, while both sativas and indicas (or hybrids) offer the best medicinal and recreational flowers. Again, the only thing we have to fear about cannabis, is the fear of these plants itself. Their raw materials alone WILL lift the US economy out of the skids for good.

    • jontomas

      I disagree about the term “marijuana.” – Yes, in the early 20th Century, some nefarious, powerful people chose the term for their propaganda.

      That was then. This is now.

      They did not invent it. It was already being used to refer to the plant by Mexicans. And since the 1960’s it has been the most popular term by the widest spectrum of society – and certainly, at least for its millions of fans, was a term of great affection and not a little awe.

      Time, and events, change almost everything. – All the hundred names for cannabis are good. For those who have appreciated it since the sixties, “marijuana” will always hold a place of reverence.

      It will live on as a positive word, long past the haters who have now failed in their evil demonization of marijuana and marijuana consumers.

      • Lawrence Goodwin

        Thanks for the comments, jontomas. I truly love Mexico and its people, knowing full well the origins of the word “marijuana” (I can only dream of meeting the real Mary and Jane!:) For years on end, I’ve worked with Mexican laborers, and in college several classmates and I stayed with a Mexican family for 1 month, soaking up their generosity and the rich culture of central Mexico. I grew quite fond of waking up in the a.m. to enjoy coffee and smoke (tobacco) on a 4th floor patio with a giant volcano named Popocatepetel looming in the distance. Muy buena vista! The more common term used today by the laborers I know is “la mota,” and they all know that the plant’s real name is “canamo” (with a squiggly over “n” for pronunciation). But to reiterate: Then as now, our elected leaders have succeeded for so long in perpetuating cannabis prohibition simply through constant use of the slang word–which describes ONLY seedless, female flowers for smoking or medicinal extracts. What about the pulp and fibers from cannabis stalks, or the female flowers that get pollinated by males and then bear seeds? Marijuana describes none of that. Peace out, bro.

        • jontomas

          Believe me. For decades, “marijuana” mostly did not have flowers. What we smoked primarily in the 70s and 80s was leaves – with PLENTY of seeds and stems. (We’d remove them, of course.)

          I don’t see why anyone would want to call pulp and fibers from cannabis stalks, marijuana. These are actually hemp products.

          My understanding is any plant that has enough THC in it to get you high is called marijuana, no matter what it’s actually used for.

          Our “leaders” did not owe the success or longevity of prohibition to the use of the term “marijuana.” As I stated, this may have had some effect up to the sixties, but since then, “marijuana” is the beloved plant for the more than 100 million Americans who have consumed it.

          Yes. Mexico is a great country with a great people. Even though they struggle with tremendous poverty, I have noted they are, on a whole, happier than U.S. citizens.

        • jontomas

          I replied, but it seems the moderator didn’t like it for some reason. I don’t feel like trying to post it again.

          I like the Weed Blog, but it has the most capricious censorship I’ve ever seen.

          • reefers

            Sure does.

  • disqus_khOigjnTmd

    “The Senate Appropriations Committee also overwhelmingly approved, 16 to 14,” – ok, not to quibble over language, but I think a 16-14 win is the opposite of an overwhelming victory – much more of a “by the skin of our teeth” victory. But the close wins taste even sweeter, IMO. Thank you to everyone who called their senator in support!

  • Julphar industries

    skype son.mark4 for meds buds strains etc /////

  • Martin Turner

    How is it just azz backward, grow and posess in the capitol. Here Mo 5 yr class B Felony for growing.