Initiative 71 and DC Statehood

What is Initiative 71 and how do DC’s marijuana laws work?

In the 2014 election, DC voters successfully passed Initiative 71 (i-71), which permitted DC residents 21 and up to carry up to two ounces of marijuana and allowed for them to possess and cultivate up to three marijuana plants. This initiative was approved with overwhelming support from voters, with 70% of residents voting yes.

– Initiative 71 (or i-71 for short) made it legal for adults 21 years of age or older to:

– Possess two ounces or less of marijuana;

– Grow within their primary residence up to six marijuana plants, no more than three of which are mature;

– Transfer one ounce or less of marijuana to another person as long as: (1) no money, goods, or services are exchanged; and (2) the recipient is 21 years of age or older; and

– Consume marijuana on private property.

Why is it legal to possess and cultivate cannabis in DC but illegal to sell?

– Shortly after Initiative 71 passed, Congress included an amendment to their budget that blocked DC from legalizing the sale of cannabis. Maryland Congressman Andy Harris introduced a provision (often referred to as the Harris Rider) that blocked DC officials from enacting any regulatory framework for the sale or taxation of marijuana. So while it is legal to possess and cultivate cannabis in DC, it is not legal to sell it. Despite this, some innovative people were able to envision a world without cannabis prohibition; thus, the wonderful landscape of DC cannabis “gifting” was born.

What is Gifting?

– As a result of Congressional interference in DC’s ability to fully implement Initiative 71, businesses interested in providing customers with access to a recreational cannabis industry found a way to do so through the “gift” economy, the culture of supplying recreational marijuana through indirect sales. DC businesses operating within i-71 compliance sell items unrelated to cannabis (i.e. stickers, action figures, trading cards, art, pencils, etc.) and provide visitors with a free cannabis gift to accompany their purchase. This has allowed them to operate around the Harris Rider, allowing DC residents to access a somewhat recreational cannabis industry by “gifting” cannabis. These businesses openly advertise in the District and have contributed to DC becoming a tourist destination for cannabis connoisseurs around the country.

How is Initiative 71 connected to the push for DC Statehood?

– In 1973, Congress passed the Home Rule Act which granted DC residents (some) control of their own local affairs. This Act established the DC Council, the legislative branch of DC’s local government; however, it also granted Congress the ability to review all legislation passed by the Council before it becomes law. Also, Congress retained authority over the District’s budget, the President still appoints the District’s judges, and the District still has no voting representation in Congress.

– As a result of this, when Initiative 71 passed, calling on the DC Council to design an ordinance establishing regulations on marijuana retail sales and enforcement of such regulations, Congress was able to prohibit the voter-led initiative from fully establishing a recreational cannabis industry in DC. In December 2014, a $1.1 trillion spending Bill was approved, which included the Harris Rider; it has remained in the Congressional budget ever since.

– Ultimately, DC’s ability to establish a recreational cannabis industry has been blocked for the last seven years by the same legislative body in which D.C. residents have no voting representatives. As a result of the limitations placed on our local government and its subsequent impact on our ability to access a fully recreational cannabis industry, the push for recreational cannabis and DC statehood are closely connected.