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Why the D.C. Mayor’s Plan to Delay Marijuana Legalization Is a Bad Idea

D. C. Mayor-Elect Muriel Bowser

The mayor-elect of D.C. Muriel Bowser (D) supports marijuana legalization and wants it to succeed, but her current implementation plan seems to be a real mistake on both a political and policy level. From WJLA:

She also vowed Wednesday to fight any attempt on Capitol Hill to block the marijuana legalization referendum approved by D.C. voters on Tuesday.

But the mayor-elect added that she won’t allow the initiative legalizing to take effect until the District has a system in place to tax and regulate the drug – a delay that the head of the legalization campaign will likely fight her on.

Bowser said that she’ll tap a member of her transition team to study pot laws in other states and move quickly to enact a regulatory structure.

Policy mistake – There are no legitimate policy reasons that implementing the extremely popular Initiatives 71, which only legalizes limited possession and home cultivation of marijuana for adults, should be made contingent on the set up of a regulated retail system. The former policy change can exist fine without a regulated market. This was proven true in Colorado. In that state possession and home cultivation were legalized in December of 2012, a full year before the first retail stores open. This caused a big drop in marijuana arrests, but no major problems.

Policy expert Mark Kleiman has even gone so far as to suggest D.C. should think about only implementing the initiative with the council adopting a bill to allow for its regulated sale.

Political mistake – It also seems to be a political mistake because of an issue of timing. The most likely way Congress will trying to stop D.C. from moving forward with legalization is by include a policy rider in a must-pass funding bill. This is what Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) tried to do last year.

At the moment Congress needs to fund the government before the end of the year, so the lame duck Congress is expect to approve a clean continuing resolution to cover the next several months. That is why it is best Initiative 71 goes to Congress right away. That would put its review period during this window when the new Republican controlled Congress isn’t adopting any new funding bills. The longer it is delayed the more likely its review could be caught in a fight over a must-pass government funding bill.

It seems best to get personal possession and home growing officially legalized in D.C. as quickly as possible. Hopefully, Bowser transition team will see this.

Photo by Bootbearwdc/Flickr under Creative Commons license

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Jon Walker

Jon Walker

Jonathan Walker grew up in New Jersey. He graduated from Wesleyan University in 2006. He is an expert on politics, health care and drug policy. He is also the author of After Legalization and Cobalt Slave, and a Futurist writer at http://pendinghorizon.com

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