Activist says DC Council’s latest pot vote signals ‘new drug war’

A local activist said a D.C. Council vote Tuesday was evidence the District was gearing up for “a new drug war.”

The council on Tuesday voted 8-5 in favor of a bill that would have penalized so-called gifting shops, which sell other items such as art and clothing and include a “free gift” of cannabis with a purchase. However, because the bill was emergency legislation, it needed nine votes to pass.

“I like to call it drug war 2.0,” said Adam Eidinger, the activist who led the effort to get recreational pot legalized in the District. “I’m sure those five council members who voted against it had gotten hundreds of phone calls from people.”

Council Chair Phil Mendelson had pushed for the measure, citing concerns from owners of D.C.’s legal and taxable medical dispensaries, who said they’ve been losing business to gifting shops.

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The bill would have allowed the District to close such shops for 96 hours and fine them up to $30,000 if they offer “a patron marijuana or marijuana products as part of that retail or service transaction.”

“This is no longer about police versus the marijuana community,” Eidinger said. “This is corporate interests versus the grassroots marijuana community.”

Eidinger told WTOP that the owners who run gifting shops and marijuana pop-up stores in D.C. don’t make a lot of money.

“This whole situation is so messed up,” Eidinger said. “So many people use cannabis as a supplemental income. The only people complaining about these small stores that are all around the city are politicians.”

Mendelson previously told WTOP he was concerned about establishments that ignore the law and sell the drug anyway.

“It’s an invitation to criminal activity, such as robberies,” Mendelson said. “It is fomenting criminal activity, and that’s the public safety problem that Congress has handed us.”

Marijuana has been legal in D.C. for medical and recreational purposes since 2010 and 2015, respectively, and existing laws allow adults in the District to legally grow, use and share small amounts of the plant.

It remains illegal to sell recreational marijuana. The U.S. House of Representatives has the final say on D.C. laws, and congressional Republicans have repeatedly stalled efforts to legalize marijuana sales within the District.

A ban on D.C. being able to establish retail marijuana sales is widely known as the “Harris Rider,” named for U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, a Republican from Maryland who introduced the measure in Congress after D.C. residents voted to legalize recreational marijuana.

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Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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