A bill in the D.C. Council that would tax marijuana has generated a lot of discussion among District leaders and residents.
D.C. Council member David Grosso (I-At Large), is the author of a bill, “The Marijuana Legalization and Regulation Act of 2013.” This bill would tax the sales of marijuana for recreational use at 15 percent and medicinal use at six percent. Grosso’s bill was the subject of a joint roundtable on Oct. 28. The bill was co-sponsored and presented by D.C. Council member Vincent Orange (D-At Large), who chairs the Committee on Business, Consumer and Regulatory Affairs and D.C. Council member Jack Evans, who leads the Committee on Finance and Revenue, at the John A. Wilson Building.
Grosso’s bill would make it illegal for a District resident younger than 21 to use marijuana for private consumption. The District’s AlcoholBeverage Regulation Administration would manage marijuana sales, like it does with alcohol.
The revenue from recreational marijuana would fund programs that support the District’s young people and drug prevention.
“The goal is to get rid of the underground market,” Grosso said. “This is not a windfall for the District of Columbia.”
Analysts who work for the District’s chief financial officer testified at the hearing that the city could generate $130 million annually in sales from 122,000 residents, commuters and tourists who purchase three ounces of marijuana annually at $350 an ounce.
In the Nov. 4 general election, District residents went to the polls to vote on Initiative 71, which would legalize marijuana.
The results of the vote were announced after AFRO press time, but the city is poised to join Washington and Colorado as states that tax marijuana. However, if Grosso’s bill passes the council and is signed into law by the mayor, it must be approved by the U.S. Congress, which is an uncertainty given the strong Republican influence in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.
In 1998, District residents voted in a referendum to legalize medical marijuana but the U.S. Congress led by Republicans then blocked the vote’s implementation. In January 2011, with the work of D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) and other city leaders, Congress stepped back and medical marijuana became legal.
Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) tried to stop the onset of the decriminalization of marijuana in the District earlier this year. It is not clear what congressional Republicans will do at this point to stop legalization in the city.
Nevertheless, Evans said that it would be wise for the council to start working on the infrastructure of collecting marijuana taxes, given the strong support of legalization in the city.
The Marijuana Policy Project, a District-based, national organization that supports legalizing marijuana throughout the country, issued a position on regulating the drug stating “by regulating marijuana, authorities will actually know who is selling it, where it is being sold, when and to whom.
The statement also noted, “Sales will benefit legitimate, tax-paying businesses instead of violent drug cartels and states and localities will generate significant new tax revenue.”
Taxing marijuana makes good sense to District resident Greg Stewart.
“We tax alcohol and cigarettes so why not marijuana,” Stewart said. “In this city, we do tax commodities and marijuana will be considered a commodity.”
Some Black residents such as Will Jones III and Ambrose Lane, the chairman of the Ward 7 Health Alliance Network, oppose legalizing marijuana and its possible taxation because African Americans will unfairly bear the brunt of its financial, health and criminal justice costs.
Ed Potillo is undecided about a marijuana tax but thinks that the tax burden on District residents is becoming unbearable.
“I think we should expand the number of small businesses in the city so that we can have more tax revenue coming in,” Potillo said. “That to me is better than taxing individuals.”