DC Council Member to Introduce Marijuana Legalization Bill

While some of his colleagues are pushing for decriminalization, David Grosso wants to make weed fully legal in the District.

By: Benjamin Freed

More members of the DC Council think it's high time the District reviewed its laws concerning marijuana. While some city legislators are preparing to introduce a bill decriminalizing weed, Council member David Grosso plans to introduce a separate bill that would legalize it altogether.

Grosso, an at-large member of the Council elected last year, plans to introduce his legalization bill next Tuesday. Under the terms of Grosso's bill, people over the age of 21 could buy and use marijuana without the fear of a criminal or civil penalty. The bill also sets up a scheme of regulating and taxing the green stuff, and would put the Alcoholic Beverage Regulatory Administration in charge of licensing and overseeing growers and retailers. Marijuana and paraphernalia would be taxed at 15 percent.

Tommy Wells and Marion Barry are planning on introducing a bill to decriminalize marijuana, and while Grosso tells Washingtonian that he will support that measure, he'd like to see DC go all the way.

"I just think this is the right next step," he says. "I'm in the camp that really believes that decriminalization will increase demand and we'll still have the same number of dealers on our streets and users who will not be protected."

While decriminalization would sharply reduce the number of people who get booked and jailed for smoking a joint or carrying a nickel bag, marijuana arrests have been on the rise in recent years. The Metropolitan Police Department made 5,759 marijuana-related busts. And the American Civil Liberties Union found that in 2010, black people were eight times as likely to be arrested on pot charges than white people.

Although Wells and Barry's decriminalization bill already has six co-sponsors—more than enough to find a majority on the Council—Grosso feels the District is ready to contemplate legalization.

"It's going to come around at one point or another," he says. "Marijuana is not the evil-empire drug that people have made it out to be and people need to see it for what it is."

Besides the legalization bill, Grosso also plans to introduce companion legislation to seal the criminal records of anyone convicted of a misdemeanor or non-violent felony related to marijuana. He says too many people are having their careers and lives derailed because of a pot charge.

"I think people are tired of seeing people going to jail for something that is so minor," Grosso says.

Grosso's bill would also set legal limits for driving while under the influence of marijuana. His legislation is modeled largely on a ballot referendum passed by voters in Washington State last year. And with Washington, along with Colorado, legalizing marijuana and an increasing number of states approving medical marijuana, the Justice Department recently relaxed its stance. In August, the Justice Department announced that, after years of inconsistent enforcement, it would stop interfering with local laws that allow for medicinal or recreational pot use.

But Grosso's bill will almost certainly face opposition from DC's law enforcement leaders. MPD Chief Cathy Lanier has already voiced her hesitation to decriminalization, citing what she says is a trend of marijuana strains becoming more efficacious.

"This is a significant issue that merits robust discussion on a broad spectrum of issues, including concerns about the risk to children with increased access, the health impact of increasingly potent plants, and conflict with federal laws," she said in July. Those do not sound like the words of someone who would be more open to legalization.

Still, Grosso's bill might not be the only pathway for legalizing marijuana. Even if his bill fails, pro-pot activists are hoping to place a ballot referendum in the November 2014 election that would accomplish the same goal.