Smoke Signals, and a Slow Bern, Mark a Productive 23rd Legislative Meeting


While a few pieces of major legislation tend to monopolize the headlines, much of the Council’s work consists of smaller-scale, incremental measures aimed at righting minor wrongs, closing legal loopholes, or taking smaller steps towards larger goals and principles. Today’s Legislative Meeting was very much in that mold, but two such measures drew the most attention out of all that was accomplished. One dealt with marijuana, and the other with the ballot status of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

Private Marijuana Clubs

Dating back to the passage of Initiative 71 in November of 2014, DC residents have been figuring out what marijuana’s role is in the District’s future will be. The initiative made it legal for adults to possess, grow, or use small amounts of marijuana privately, but not its sale or public use. Congress did not block the law coming into effect, however a subsequent Congressional rider raised the stakes substantially on any future changes to marijuana laws by barring the use of federal or local funds to in any way reduce the legal penalties for drug use. The practical effect of that measure is that any tightening of drug laws becomes irreversible as long as that rider remains in effect.

The most sensitive element of recent District marijuana policy has been the status of so-called private marijuana clubs, which would be private places other than homes where marijuana could be smoked by the public.  As the District’s legislative process inched forward (made infinitely more complicated by the Congressional review of our legislation), the status of these clubs has repeatedly shifted. They went from being totally banned by a unanimous Council, to momentarily being legal, to being a subject of study by a multi-agency task force.

The District’s unique legislative process, designed to finesse the slow timeline of passive Congressional approval, means that most District legislation is introduced in three versions, each with a different duration: emergency, temporary, and permanent. In regards to the marijuana private club issue, the above votes were on either the emergency or temporary versions of the measure.  Prior to the expiration of the temporary legislation, two Council votes on the permanent bill would still be needed.

Some Councilmembers felt that the first vote on the permanent measure should be postponed so that the aforementioned task force could have time to undertake its work. In the end, the Council voted 7 to 6 yesterday to continue the ban on private marijuana clubs. If a second vote in the weeks to come were to confirm the first, due to the Congressional rider mentioned earlier, such action could not be reversed unless Congress were to repeal its rider.

Bernie on the Ballot

In a separate seemingly procedural measure with broad implications, the Council also took action to ensure that Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders would be on the June primary election ballot.  Prior to the legislative fix being implemented, candidates seeking access to the Democratic ballot faced one deadline to get their request submitted to the Party, and that same day, the Party faced a deadline to pass that request onto the Board of Elections. Those two overlapping deadlines, with no turn time between them, led to candidate Sanders’ name not being placed on the ballot in time.  The Council’s action today created a one-day turn time between the submission of materials to the Party, and the Party’s follow-on request to the Board of Elections.  As a result, Bernie Sanders’ name will appear on the Democratic ballot.

Broad Batch of Introductions

Virtually every Councilmember took the opportunity at today’s Legislative Meeting to introduce new proposed legislation. Those measures included:

  • A comprehensive youth justice bill
  • A ban on any DC government travel to jurisdictions that discriminate based on sexual orientation
  • Accountability measures when search warrants are executed at incorrect addresses
  • A ban on smokeless tobacco use in sporting venues
  • Notification of returning citizens that their voting rights have been restored
  • Displacement prevention measures for neighbors of government redevelopment sites
  • Protection of homeowners against damage caused by adjacent development/construction
  • A requirement and deadline for reporting missing children
  • Improved process and age range for the sealing of juvenile criminal records
  • Extension of affordable housing tax credits to mixed use development projects
  • A study of if and how trees cut down by the government can be put to more productive use
  • A study of potential new recreation center in upper Northwest, potentially at Walter Reed
  • An omnibus Advisory Neighborhood Commission reform measure
  • Elimination of sales tax on diapers and feminine hygiene products
  • Provision of free diapers/feminine hygiene products to the homeless, vouchers for such products to those with low incomes, and availability of free feminine hygiene products in school restrooms
  • A Not-for-Profit Hospital Board nominee

For a listing of all votes taken at the meeting, please click here.