Pubdate: Fri, 11 Dec 2015
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Copyright: 2015 The Washington Post Company
Author: Abigail Hauslohner


Supporters of more liberal marijuana laws on Thursday delivered 
dramatic pleas that a temporary District law that bans consumption of 
the drug in private clubs be allowed to expire.

If the ban remains, the District would be punishing the poor, the 
sick, children and many others, the advocates said, because the law 
effectively eliminates any loopholes allowing for marijuana use 
outside a private home. That leaves those who rent, are visiting or 
who live in federally subsidized housing without a "safe" space in 
which to partake, marijuana activists said.

"This unjustly penalizes District residents of lesser means," said 
Kaitlyn Boecker of the Drug Policy Alliance, who said the bill 
reflected "a prohibition mind-set." Without a sanctioned space to use 
the drug, she said, the bill could lead to increased criminalization.

The District legalized marijuana nearly a year ago, after a popular 
referendum. But congressional oversight forced lawmakers to prohibit 
its sale and limit the drug's legal use to people over 21 smoking or 
ingesting it within the confines of their own homes.

A temporary law, passed by the D.C. Council in March, sought to 
clarify the ban on using the drug in public spaces by counting 
private clubs - which, according to the Bowser administration, would 
include membership organizations, like the kind that exist in 
Colorado - as public places.

D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) is now seeking to make that law, 
which will expire in January, permanent.

Soon Thursday, two dozen marijuana enthusiasts, users and advocates 
lined up to make their cases before the council's Judiciary Committee 
Chairman, Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5), on why that shouldn't happen.

They pointed to the use of medical marijuana to treat chronic pain, 
post-traumatic stress disorder, fibromyalgia and other conditions, 
arguing that themayor's bill would deprive the sick of a place to use 
a drug that has been legally prescribed. Some pointed to District 
venues such as hookah bars and rooftops, where it is legal to smoke 
cigarettes, as logical venues for marijuana consumption. Others said 
they wanted to see legal "cannabis clubs" that would function like 
ordinary bars, or group meetings that could provide a measure of therapy.

"It saddens me that we are trying to ban like-minded sick people from 
banding together," said Paige McCormick, who lobbied for marijuana's 
legalization in the District.

Several activists argued that the bill hits the city's poorest 
residents the hardest. Those living in federally subsidized housing 
are prohibited under federal law from smoking pot indoors. Landlords 
can also evict tenants for using it.

"You're telling cancer patients in public housing: 'Go risk arrest 
outside where you can't use your medicine,' " said Adam Eidinger, who 
chaired the D.C. Cannabis Campaign. "You're essentially saying to 
homeless people: 'You've got nowhere to use marijuana? Go to jail if 
you use it on the street.' "

Melinda Bollinger, who heads the District's Department for Consumer 
and Regulatory Affairs and who testified at the hearing on behalf of 
the Bowser administration, said it was precisely because of the vague 
nature of the city's existing law, when it comes to defining public 
space, that the mayor's amendment is necessary.

The District's marijuana laws are meant to allow for "homegrown, home 
use," she said. "A private club is a place to which the public is 
invited and therefore not a place where marijuana can be consumed legally."

McDuffie noted that opponents of the bill believed that it was too broad.

"How would the administration distinguish between clubs to which the 
public is invited and private clubs?" he asked. And where would a 
group of friends fit in? "Would groups of friends at private 
residences who meet weekly to smoke continue to be permitted in your 
estimation?" he asked.

Bollinger paused, and then said: "Yes, as long as it's a private residence."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom