Washington, D.C. officials defied Congress Wednesday and announced the marijuana possession is legal in the District as of 12:01 a.m. today.
Mayor Murial E. Bowser confirmed that legalization would move forward as planned, despite attempted congressional meddling. D.C. voters approved a referendum last fall legalizing marijuana, with 70 percent saying yes. Pot users could finally celebrate their victory, starting at midnight, although the mayor noted that she would be sound asleep at the critical moment.
The mayor’s office released an infographic which explains exactly what the change entails. Moving forward, people age 21 and older can possess up to two ounces of marijuana, grow up to six plants — three of which can be flowering, give up to an ounce as a gift and smoke on private property.
It’s still illegal to possess more than two ounces, to smoke in public, to sell any amount or to drive while high — in fact, public consumption is subject to fines of up to $500 and 60 days in jail. So for now, you can’t light up at a restaurant, hookah bar, or park. Pot parties in private residences, the release points out, are now kosher as long as everyone using is over 21.
The mayor also warned that federal officers can still arrest citizens for possession under any circumstances since marijuana remains categorically prohibited by federal law.
So far the District has no provisions for regulating or taxing marijuana. Earlier this month the D.C. Council dropped a planned hearing on the subject after the Attorney General warned them they could face fines or jail time for moving forward with the measure. The regulatory regime remains in limbo because Congress last year banned the District from spending any money on enacting legalization.
That didn’t stop the mayor from proclaiming that possession, at least, is now legal. “We believe that we’re acting lawfully,” Bowser said during a television announcement today. She brushed off threats from Congress that she could be thrown in jail herself. “I have a lot of things to do in the District of Columbia,” the mayor said at the news conference. “Me being in jail wouldn’t be a good thing.”
Despite their bluster, House Republicans indicated that they wouldn’t actually move to intervene in the District’s actions, at least for now. Should they change their mind, the dispute would likely end up in front of a judge. Congress had a period from January 13th, 2015 until yesterday to block the legalization law via vote, but declined to do so.
Several D.C. Council members told the Washington Post that they supported the mayor’s actions. “We have had solid legal ground this whole time on how to follow this initiative,” said member Charles Allen. “This has nothing to do with marijuana. This is about the autonomy of the District and the will of the District voters. Quite frankly, I think it’s a perversion of democracy, what they are trying to do.”
The D.C. Council also passed a bill on Tuesday banning employers from testing applicants for marijuana unless they’ve made a conditional job offer.
All told, the nation’s capital is now a much friendlier place to get high. “This is a significant milestone in the movement for racial justice, civil liberties, and drug policy reform,” said Dr. Malik Burnett, D.C. policy manager at the Drug Policy Alliance. “The racially-biased enforcement of marijuana laws in the nation’s capital is officially a relic of history.”
Previously, marijuana could be used in the District for medical purposes, and possession of up to an ounce carried no criminal penalties. Washington, D.C. now joins Alaska, Colorado and Washington state in officially legalizing marijuana possession.