On February 26, 2015, possession of small amounts of marijuana became legal in Washington, D.C. as a result of the city’s adoption of Initiative 71. There was some opposition in Congress, but no action was taken, so the new law went quietly into effect. Legislative analyst Robert Capecchi discusses the new law and what it will mean for the nation’s capital.
Capecchi notes that there is still a disconnect between the city law in the District of Columbia and the federal government, which still treats marijuana as a controlled substance under the Controlled Substances Act. Representative Jason Chaffetz has warned city officials that legalization would be a violation of federal law. It appears that there will be no lawsuit from Congress, although it has been suggested that the Department of Justice should take action. Capecchi does not expect any action, given that the Congress had a thirty-day window to pass a disapproval resolution but failed to act.
The D.C. law is more restrictive than the laws in Colorado and Washington. It does not allow for regulated sales or cultivation for those sales. There is also no provision for taxing and regulating marijuana like alcohol, Capecchi explains, although there is support for the idea among city council members in the District and in the mayor’s office. He adds that the Marijuana Policy Project will continue efforts to get the council to move forward with taxing and regulating marijuana. The MPP works on changing laws in Congress and in the states on a continuing basis. Lawmakers like the revenue prospect of marijuana legalization and taxation; some also support changing the law as a social policy matter.
The federal government has not entirely abandoned efforts to enforce federal marijuana laws, as indicated by the prosecution of the “Kettle Falls Five” in Washington state. Capecchi notes that the prosecution in that case ignored the policy set at the Department of Justice in 2009 of not prosecuting patients in medical marijuana states. “It’s mind boggling.” People in marijuana states are essentially living under two sets of conflicting laws. Capecchi expresses the hope that the federal government realizes that the tide of public opinion has turned and ends the ban on marijuana. States could then deal with marijuana policy on a state by state basis as is the case with alcohol.
Robert Capecchi is the Deputy Director of State Policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, Washington D.C. As one of four legislative analysts in MPP’s State Policies Department, Robert is the point person for MPP’s legislative work in about a quarter of the various state legislatures. Robert is a 2008, cum laude graduate of William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota. He was formerly employed by Cook, Hill, Girard Associates, a contract-lobbying firm in St. Paul. The Legal Broadcast Network is a featured network of the Sequence Media Group.