DC Mayor and Council Chairman Announce Separate Cannabis Bills, Aim to Legalize Cannabis Use in the District – Georgetown University The Hoya

Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) and D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) introduced separate legislation that would legalize recreational cannabis use for adults in the District

Bowser announced her bill, The Safe Cannabis Sales Act of 2021, on Feb. 26, while Mendelson proposed his Comprehensive Cannabis Legalization and Regulation Act of 2021 on March 1. If either piece of legislation is passed by the end of the year, the first legal sale of recreational cannabis could occur as early as October 2022. 

DESIGN BY: ROSY LIN/THE HOYA | Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) and D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) introduced separate legislation that would legalize recreational cannabis use for adults in Washington, D.C.

Both bills would legalize adult-use cannabis, provide for the automatic expungement of records with certain cannabis convictions and allocate tax revenues from cannabis product sales toward different causes in the District. 

Mendelson was not aware of Bowser’s bill nor its anticipated release date, according to Lindsey Walton, director of communications at Mendelson’s office.

“The Chairman used inspiration from California, Massachusetts, Illinois, and several other states that have legalized the use of recreational cannabis,” Walton wrote in an email to The Hoya.

Co-signers of Mendelson’s legislation include Councilmembers Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5), Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), Brianne Nadeau (D-Ward 1), Brooke Pinto (D-Ward 2), Christina Henderson (I-At Large) and Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3). 

Mendelson’s bill would impose a 13% tax on recreational cannabis sales. The bill also includes plans to automatically expunge cannabis-related arrests and convictions and to launch a public education campaign surrounding cannabis usage. 

Bowser’s Safe Cannabis Sales Act of 2021 includes a 17% tax on adult-use cannabis and cannabis products. If passed, the bill would also require certain cannabis convictions to be automatically expunged.

The Safe Cannabis Sales Act of 2021 is centered around safety, equality and justice, according to Bowser.

“Through this legislation, we can fulfill the will of D.C. voters, reduce barriers for entering the cannabis industry, and invest in programs that serve residents and neighborhoods hardest hit by the criminalization of marijuana,” Bowser said in a Feb. 26 press release.

Within the first fiscal years, recreational cannabis sales are projected to incur hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue, which would be redirected back to the D.C. community under the provisions of both bills. Bowser expects to allocate over $5 million in tax revenue with her bill’s funding allocation and projects these revenues will double by fiscal year 2024. 

Mendelson said he prefers his bill, which he describes as more equitable than the mayor’s.

“The strategies in our bill are thought through to look at goals in other states and to be more effective in accomplishing them. And the mayor’s bill doesn’t do that,” Mendelson said in an interview with the Washington City Paper. 

The District’s current laws, passed in 2014, dictate that adult citizens can grow, possess and gift cannabis, but not sell. 

As chairman, Mendelson determines which committee a bill is directed to and can prioritize his own bill. Some news publications have speculated that Mendelson and the six fellow council members who have signed as co-introducers may have an edge over the mayor’s bill.

Despite differences between their proposed bills, both Bowser and Mendelson emphasized justice for those most impacted by the criminalization of cannabis, according to Mendelson.
“Importantly this bill centers reinvestment on, and creates opportunities for, the people and communities that were hit hardest by the War on Drugs,” Mendelson wrote in a March 1 tweet.

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