DC’s Last Day of Marijuana Illegality – Sort Of

Marijuana Politics

At least to 64% of D.C. residents who in November voted for Ballot Initiative 71 (“I-71”) and the legalization of certain aspects of personal marijuana cultivation and possession, Muriel Bowser is proving to be what they needed in a mayor – a fighter. Mayor Bowser is standing her ground against certain U.S. Congress members and has stated that as of 12:01 AM Thursday, I-71 will become effective.

This means that today – Wednesday, February 25, 2015 – is the last day in the District that individuals can be prosecuted by D.C. police officers for possessing up to two ounces of marijuana on their person or for growing up to six marijuana plants in their homes.

Given Washington, D.C.’s unique nature as a federal district and not a state, with federal parks and property included within the District’s territorial boundary, the law’s implementation – and understanding the implementation – will be tricky. Individuals residing in and visiting our nation’s capital should take steps to ensure they fully understand how D.C.’s marijuana laws will be administered. One example of an important implementation issue is that though D.C. police officers are obligated to follow the new law, federal law enforcement officers are not. Such federal officers may continue to arrest individuals for possessing marijuana under federal law. Whether and how such federal arrests occur in D.C. will be an important issue as I-71 is implemented.

As we discussed in previously in Politics and Pot: Will D.C. Marijuana Initiative 71 Stand? and What’s Next For Marijuana Legalization In D.C.? and Legalized Marijuana in D.C.: President Obama Hopes to Have the Last Word–Literally, I-71 is limited in scope. On Thursday, the law implementing I-71 will allow individuals 21-years-old and older to possess up to two ounces of marijuana, use marijuana on private property, and transfer with no exchange of money or anything of value up to one ounce of marijuana to another person who is at least 21-years-old. D.C. residents can grow in their primary residences up to six marijuana plants, only three of which can be flowering or mature.

Importantly, selling marijuana will not be legal on Thursday morning, and the U.S. Congress has implemented measures that make progress on commercial marijuana activities difficult for the foreseeable future. In addition, any public use of marijuana remains illegal. Individuals may not smoke or consume products containing marijuana outside their homes in such areas as cars, restaurants, bars, or parks

While the District moves forward in implementing I-71, certain Congressional members continue to fight it. On February 24, the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform issued Mayor Bowser a letter signed by Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and Subcommittee on Government Operations Chairman Mark Meadows (R-North Carolina). The letter details the Committee’s position that Mayor Bowser’s implementation of I-71 is “a knowing and willful violation of the law” and requests that Mayor Bowser provide the following by March 10:

  1. A list of any District of Columbia employee who participated in any way in any action related to the enactment of Initiative 71, including the employee’s salary and position, the amount of time each employee engaged in the action(s), and the action(s) taken by the employee. Please also provide a list of any employee who declined to participate in activities related to Initiative 71.
  1. The amounts of any funds expended by activity on enactment of Initiative 71, including, but not limited to, the transmission of Initiative 71 to Congress and developing rules for law enforcement or the general public.
  1. Any document or communication related to the enactment of Initiative 71.

The Committee appears to be preparing for what could be a David vs. Goliath legal battle on the specific issue of marijuana legalization in the District and the larger issue of whether D.C. residents have the right to pass and implement ballot initiatives without Congressional interference. Though the legal issues are undecided, there appears to be no question about Mayor Bowser’s resolve. Or the will of 64% of D.C. residents who voted in November.