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Measure Filed to Legalize Cannabis Retail Sales in D.C.

by Sarah Cawthon August 20, 2020

Activists in Washington, D.C. have filed a new proposed ballot initiative that would legalize marijuana sales in the district. The initiative, the New Modern Day Cannabis Justice Reform Act, would allow for cannabis retail sales, legalize cannabis cultivation and provide expungements of prior cannabis convictions.


Voters in the nation’s capital legalized low-level cannabis possession and cultivation in 2014, and a majority of city officials and residents support creating a taxed and regulated adult-use cannabis market for the city.


However, the law does not allow for the licensing of retail marijuana establishments or a system to regulate and tax cannabis products. Also, a Congressional rider has been put into place, which stipulates that D.C. cannot spend its own tax dollars to create a legal cannabis regulation framework. This has created a “gray market” of donation-based cannabis sales in the district.


A similar instance occurred in the city after voters legalized medical cannabis in D.C. in 1998. The medical program was not created until 2009, and the first legal sale of medical cannabis did not take place until 2013.


Now, activists are hoping to collect the necessary signatures to place a measure outlining legal retail sales on the November ballot. Because the election is less than 90 days away, the city Board of Elections will meet on September 2 to determine if the initiative can even be approved for the 2020 election. If the board approves the proposal, the campaign must collect 24,385 by the deadline the board will set.


Although the campaign has not formally begun collecting signatures, it did circulate an independent petition that totaled nearly 40,000 signatures from individuals who are likely to sign the official form.  


The measure would also include a residency requirement, which would limit all cannabis business licenses to permanent residents who have lived in the district for at least two years. Individuals on parole would also be eligible, the measure states.


“We don’t want outsiders to come in and take over our business. It’s already happened,” said Dawn Lee-Carty, the campaign’s executive director, noting that outside businesses already dominate the city's medical cannabis industry. “You have a lot of out-of-state, people that come in — big money interests that come in — and they sweep up the opportunities that people in our community could have.”


The initiative also outlines a ban on vertical integration to prevent companies from occupying multiple stages of production and sales so that the local industry is more diverse and less at rick of monopolization.


Additionally, police would be prevented from using cannabis as an excuse to conduct searches or traffic stops. Police dogs that are trained to sniff out cannabis would be retrained to sniff out explosives and firearms. These additional changes would limit confrontation and interaction with police, reducing the chances of racially disproportionate cannabis-related arrests.


This initiative could redirect funds previously allotted to enforcing cannabis-related laws to the security and well-being of the D.C. residents. The measure would bring business opportunities for the residents and produce additional tax revenue for the city as well.


Application fees will be decided upon once the measure is passed into law.   


“Our goal is to push hard and — if we have to take it to Congress, whatever levels that we have to take — to ensure that it is a different cannabis climate for the safety of the patient, for the economy, for those who participate and want to be store owners for cannabis, we should have access just like big moneyed interests have access without being washed out,” said Lee-Carty.


Interested in Applying For Future D.C. Marijuana Business Opportunities? DT Dispensary Application Guide & Checklist-1

With the possibility of legalization landing on the November ballot, you can begin preparing for marijuana business opportunities in Washington, D.C. If the legalization of retail sales is placed on the ballot and passed by voters in November, the district will hold and application process to license marijuana businesses.


Our Application Guide and Checklist contains a roughly 40-page, detailed summary and checklist including all action items you will need to complete prior to submitting your application. It also includes our team's research of which geographical areas we believe will receive priority licensing in the state.