Bowser, Mendelson Propose Differing Marijuana Bills

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Chairman Mendeslon speaks during a morning press conference, Monday, March 1, 2021. Screenshot: Youtube live ChairmanMendelson.com/LIVE

On Monday morning, DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson spoke at a press conference about new proposed marijuana legislation in DC. Mendelson’s new legislation, the Comprehensive Cannabis Leglislation and Regulation Act of 2021, aims to regulate the sale and distribution of cannabis.

“The broad strokes of the goal that we are introducing are that there’s a regulatory scheme to licensed to cultivation, production and retail sale of cannabis in the district,” Mendelson said. “It will be regulated through the alcoholic beverage control board which will be renamed the alcoholic beverage and cannabis administration.”

The Chairman’s bill is the second piece of legislation to tackle marijuana sales. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) released a similar bill Friday. Bowser’s Safe Cannabis Sales Act of 2021 would legalize the sale of adult-use cannabis and provide for residents who have been disproportionately harmed by the criminalization of cannabis, specifically low-income communities of color.

“Previous iterations of bills of this sort did not go far enough to right the wrongs of or to provide opportunities for residents, particularly Black residents, who are unjustly targeted by the drug wars,” Mendelson said in a video posted to Twitter.

“This is about safety, equity, and justice,” said Bowser in a Feb. 26th release announcing her Bill. “Through this legislation, we can fulfill the will of DC voters, reduce barriers for entering the cannabis industry, and invest in programs that serve residents and neighborhoods hardest hit by the criminalization of marijuana.”

Both bills require a District resident to own at least 60 percent of the business and impose a 6 percent tax on sales. Each prioritizes populations most impacted by marijuana-related laws. Bowser’s legislation does so through a points system, whereas Mendelson’s creates a category of Social Equity applicants. These include those convicted of a marijuana-related offense, or those who live in areas of high poverty, unemployment or arrests. Bowser’s bill includes those subject to racial, ethnic or cultural biases.

Bowser’s plan would divide tax revenue among programs and initiatives, including supporting returning citizens wanting to start a cannabis-related business, youth and work force program, scholarships, and local business start up grants.

Mendelson specifies that 30 percent of the tax revenues generated through his legislation would be deposited into a cannabis equity and opportunity funds to provide loans, grants and technical assistance to licence applicants. 50 precent would go to a Community Reinvestment fund for otanizations focused on youth development, homelessness prevention and legal aid.

While Bowser’s bill requires those managing or working at a cannabis related business to obtain a license, Mendelson’s bill limits that requirement to the business itself.

“These issues are complex and what this office is expected to do is on the one hand work with committee so the committees are more sensitive to equity impact, and that would be reflected in the legislation,” Mendelson said.

Mendelson’s bill so far has the support of six councilmembers, including Charles Allen (Ward 6-D). He said he is meeting with groups several times each week and has received mixed feedback; both to pass the legislation as is and to send it back to DC Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) for her to “do over.”

The bill will be discussed in legislative meetings beginning March 2. See agendas and watch meetings online here.

A rider was place on the 2014 DC Appropriations bill that legalized the possession of marijuana in DC. Residents can possess up to 2 oz of the product, but commercial sales of recreational marijuana are not legal in DC. DC Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC-D) told the Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 6C that she intended to propose legislation legalizing commercial sales this year.

Sarah Payne is a History and Neuroscience student at The University of Michigan interning with Capital Community News. She writes for and serves as an assistant news editor for Michigan’s student newspaper, The Michigan Daily. You can reach her at [email protected].