D.C. Council member David Grosso (I-At Large)

Residents have voted to legalize marijuana in D.C.

They showed their support Nov. 4 for Initiative 71 which would allow both residents and visitors, who are 21-years-old or older, to legally possess as much as two ounces of marijuana and to grow up to three marijuana plants at their homes.

Whether or not marijuana will become legal in the city is now left up to Congress, which will be led by Republicans in the next term.

According to the Washington Post, the implementation of the marijuana initiative is still uncertain.

Even so, a large number of council members said they would submit follow-up legislation to Congress next year as well as establish a system to sell and tax the drug. In a press conference Nov. 5, Mayor-elect Muriel Bowser said that if marijuana use in D.C. is legalized by Congress, her administration would immediately put a system in place that makes sense of taxing and regulating the drug.  “I see no reason why we wouldn’t follow a regime similar to how we regulate and tax alcohol,” she said.

D.C. Council member David Grosso (I-At Large) has already drafted “The Marijuana Legalization and Regulation Act of 2013” bill would also tax sales of marijuana for recreational use at 15 percent and medicinal use at six percent. The District’s Alcohol Beverage Regulation Administration would manage marijuana sales, like it does with alcohol.

His bill was the subject of a joint roundtable on Oct. 28. Co-sponsors of the bill include 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 (D-Ward 2), who leads the Committee on Finance and Revenue.

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 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.”