DC Council rejects bill targeting marijuana ‘gifting shops’

The D.C. Council on Tuesday rejected a bill that would have allowed residents to purchase medical marijuana without a prescription.

It’s a measure 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.

The council voted 8-5 in favor of the bill, but because it was emergency legislation, it needed nine votes to advance.

Council Chairman Phil Mendelson had pushed the measure amid concern from owners of D.C.’s legal and taxable medical dispensaries, who say they have been losing business to such shops.

The bill would have allowed the District to close a gifting shop for 96 hours and fine it up to $30,000 if it offers “a patron marijuana or marijuana products as part of that retail or service transaction.” The store’s landlord would have also faced a fine of the same amount.

Recreational use and possession of marijuana has been legal in the District since 2015, after voters approved Initiative 71. But there is no mechanism for sales of recreational marijuana, because it requires an act of Congress.

Before the vote, the D.C. branch of the NAACP voiced its opposition to the bill, saying that Initiative 71 “supports economic empowerment and financial sustainability for Black business owners.”

“African-Americans are largely underrepresented in the licensed cannabis industry, whereas most of the I-71 businesses are owned by Black D.C. natives,” the branch wrote in a letter to Mendelson on Monday.

Council and community members said this is another example of why D.C. needs more autonomy.

“One of the unique nuances here is the need for statehood,” Akosua Ali, DC’s NAACP branch president, told WTOP after Tuesday’s vote.

“When we talk about the district becoming a 51st state, it’s not simply about having voter representation in Congress. That is one part of it. However, the real essence of it is district voters, really ensuring that our vote…and the legislation that is put on the books is honored as the will of the people,” Ali said.

“Too much of the future, and the integrity and the rights of District residents is in the hands of people who do not live in Washington, DC, and barely set foot in the District of Columbia.”

Jack Pointer

Jack contributes to WTOP.com when he's not working as the afternoon/evening radio writer.

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