Pubdate: Wed, 06 Jan 2016
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Copyright: 2016 The Washington Post Company
Author: Aaron C. Davis


How Lenient City Should Be About Open Smoking Is Still an Open Question

For a brief time Tuesday, the D.C. Council embraced a new, much more 
relaxed version of marijuana legalization, voting to allow pot 
smoking at rooftop bars, sidewalk patios and most any other place a 
city resident declared to be a private pot club.

That lasted just about 30 minutes. After appeals from Mayor Muriel E. 
Bowser (D), who argued that there would be no way to rein in open pot 
use once current restrictions were lifted, the council reversed itself.

But several lawmakers said their change of heart could be 
short-lived, and the council agreed to reconsider the issue within 
four weeks. That leaves open the question of how the council, Bowser 
and perhaps Congress will resolve a major disagreement about how 
lenient the city should be in regulating the smoking of pot in public.

"I don't know if it would have been as catastrophic as people say," 
said Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), who is typically one of the council's 
most conservative members but voted to lift the restrictions, saying 
that partial legalization already had led to open smoking in various 
parts of the nation's capital. "It really lit a fire under everybody 
to come up with these regulations and to address the issue."

A majority of the council appeared poised to support a major change 
in what the city's marijuana legalization law looks and feels like - 
to the delight of those who want a legal way to smoke pot in private 
clubs and other establishments. "We are heading toward some sort of 
social-smoking exception," said Adam Eidinger, who helped lead the 
successful ballot-measure fight for legalization in 2014. "Pot is all 
about having a good time - and it's better with friends."

Under the ballot measure, D.C. residents and visitors 21 and older 
can possess up to two ounces of marijuana and grow it at home. But 
Congress blocked the city from adopting laws to regulate buying and 
selling - meaning those activities remained illegal.

To prevent the formation of unregulated pot-sharing organizations, 
Bowser sent legislation to the council prohibiting marijuana at 
nightclubs, private clubs and virtually any other business registered 
by the city.

The council unanimously approved the ban and, until now, seemed 
intent on keeping its residents' marijuana use as low-key and private 
as possible.

The first of the council's votes Tuesday would have sent the District 
into uncharted territory, allowing businesses to determine in just 10 
days their own rules for pot use on their properties.

The second vote, held after a round of urgent calls to council 
members from Bowser, set the clock ticking on an effort to come up 
with a new plan before the council votes again on extending the ban Feb. 2.

Bowser, who is not looking for a fight with Congress on this issue, 
vowed through a spokesman to continue to lobby to keep the ban in 
place. Until Congress frees the city to fully regulate pot sales, her 
spokesman said, Bowser believes the ban is the bestway to preserve 
the intent of voter-approved Initiative 71.

"The law remains clear: Small amounts of marijuana are legal for 
adults for home grow and home use," spokesman Michael Czin said.

What a new set of rules concerning pot consumption in the city might 
look like remains unclear.

Under congressional restrictions placed on the city, the District is 
barred from appropriating any local tax revenue to enact or enforce 
looser marijuana laws. Failing to extend the ban, Bowser said, would 
therefore lead to "an unworkable system of pot clubs, with no way to 
regulate its sale or consumption."

Council member Brianne K. Nadeau (D-Ward 1), who started the effort 
to quash the mayor's ban, said it runs counter to the voters' intent 
to legalize marijuana, as Colorado and some other states had. Nadeau 
told colleagues that eliminating the ban would mark a new willingness 
by the Democratic-majority council to confront a Congress controlled 
by Republicans.

Council member Vincent B. Orange (D-At Large) said the ban 
inadvertently promotes pot smoking in private homes, potentially 
around children, and discriminates against those who live in federal 
public housing because marijuana remains banned there.

But council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) said the District risked 
becoming the "Wild West" of marijuana clubs without the ban. She said 
pro-pot groups could rent out a warehouse, invite hundreds to a party 
"and we'd have no way of stopping children from entering," she said.

Democratic council members LaRuby May (Ward 8) and Charles Allen 
(Ward 6) initially voted against the ban. As the mayor began calling 
council members on the dais, Allen asked to reopen the discussion and 
said he would change his vote. May, a close ally of Bowser's, also 
reversed course.

Council member Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5), head of the judiciary 
committee, is now in charge of drafting a potential compromise.

Eidinger said the District could further restrict pot distribution, 
still allowed by Congress, by tightening the meaning of 
"remuneration" under the ballot-measure law.

That, he said, would clear up any confusion and expressly prohibit 
providing monetary donations or services for marijuana.

In exchange, however, Eidinger also wants the city to allow 
restaurants, clubs, concert halls and other businesses to be rented 
out for private events that allow marijuana consumption in designated 
smoking areas.

"I think some establishments would go marijuana-only," he said.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom