Washington DC weighs competing recreational cannabis bills

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Washington DC lawmakers have two recreational marijuana legalization bills to consider after Mayor Muriel Bowser and City Council Chair Phil Mendelson introduced separate measures.

The move is significant because after District of Columbia residents voted in 2014 to legalize adult use, Congress used an arcane federal law to prevent DC tax dollars from being used to implement a commercial recreational cannabis market.

Some key differences and similarities between the measures include:

  • Bowser’s bill calls for a 17% sales tax; Mendelson’s, 13%
  • Mendelson’s bill gives licensing priority to existing medical marijuana businesses and local residents who are social equity applicants – including those convicted of cannabis-related offenses and/or living in impoverished areas of DC. Bowser’s bill, according to the Washington City Paper, creates a point system that gives preference to local social equity applicants as well as veterans. Bowser’s bill does not give any preference to existing marijuana business in the District.
  • Bowser’s bill defines three classes of cultivation licenses that cap plant counts at 2,000, 6000, and 10,000. Mendelson’s bill allows regulators to “create tiers or types of cultivation licenses that are based on square footage, plant count or annual sales.”
  • Bowser’s bill does not define license costs but stipulates licenses will be valid for three years. Mendelson’s bill sets the cultivation, manufacturing and retailer license fees at $7,000.
  • Both bills are open to but noncommittal about on-site marijuana consumption lounges. Each measure says it is something regulators can consider.
  • Both bills allow for delivery licenses.

At least one advocacy group is supporting Mendelson’s bill.

“We are looking forward to the D.C. Council advancing the more robust legislative option – which happens to be Chairman Mendelson’s Comprehensive Cannabis Legalization and Regulation Act of 2021,” Queen Adesuyi, policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance’s national affairs office in the District, said in a statement.