Congress to decide on DC medical marijuana industry expansion

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In an early and limited test of Congress’ attitudes toward marijuana under new House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, sweeping changes to Washington DC’s medical cannabis regulations are heading to Capitol Hill for federal lawmakers’ final approval this month.

Voters in the nation’s capital legalized adult use and possession of marijuana in 2014, but there’s no recreational industry per se.

These changes would create what some observers have described as a de facto adult-use industry in the District of Columbia in an end-around intended to thwart Congress, which has blocked past efforts to create a viable retail market in DC.

Legal cannabis is currently available from one of the city’s seven medical marijuana dispensaries, which face competition from a large and unregulated gray market where marijuana is readily available as a “free gift” with the purchase of a poster, T-shirt or other item.

Under “emergency” legislation approved by the DC City Council last summer, adults 21 and older in the district can “self-certify” that they require MMJ, meaning they can forgo obtaining a recommendation from a doctor.

Further changes under the Medical Cannabis Amendment Act that DC Mayor Muriel Bowser signed into law Monday would greatly expand the existing legal cannabis industry, by:

  • Eliminating a cap on the number of dispensaries allowed in the district.
  • Temporarily doing away with a plant-count limit for licensed cultivators.
  • Legalizing delivery services.
  • Allowing dispensaries to offer tastings in a consumption-lounge setting.

Though Washington DC has a mayor and City Council like many other American cities, legislation they pass also goes to Congress for a 30-day review under the district’s Home Rule Act.

That means the Democratic-controlled Senate and Republican-controlled House of Representatives have until early March to reject DC’s attempt to create a de facto adult-use industry in the district as well as expunge previous marijuana offenses.

DC’s cannabis industry expansion would go into effect March 8 if Congress does not intervene, according to NORML.

District lawmakers also approved an expungement bill that would wipe away any marijuana-related charge that’s since been eliminated from the law books under legalization by Jan. 1, 2025.

If Congress does not act, the expungement law would take effect March 16.