District of Columbia Department of Health Recommends Marijuana Legalization

The Washington D.C. Department of Health recommended taxing and regulating adult use marijuana in the district in a new report.

After examining the benefits and risks of cannabis legislation in a recently released report, the District of Columbia Department of Health recommended the legalization of adult use marijuana within the territory’s borders.

In the comprehensive 32-page report, titled “Marijuana in the District of Columbia,” the D.C. Department of Health not only called for marijuana legalization but also advocated that the District regulate the substance as it does tobacco and alcohol.  

“Based on current findings it is recommended that the District develop and implement strategies to: Impose state taxes on production, distribution, and sales along with a licensed market participation, age restriction, and prohibitions on advertising and marketing to minors,” the report read.

The D.C. Department of Health’s extensive publication outlined the state of cannabis in the District. It examined the demographics of those who tend to use cannabis, outlined the short and long term health considerations of use, and explored the racial disparities in marijuana-related arrests.

Legalization, the DOH report concluded, would curb racial discrimination in drug arrests and provide easy access to those who need marijuana for medical purposes. The report also urged for the strengthening of treatment programs and an emphasis on educating the public about health considerations with use.

“In order to better ensure public safety, more research needs to be done regarding health effects,” the report concludes. “Additionally, health related information should be better distributed to the public, especially among expecting mothers, as many are unaware of the risks of using the substance. Currently, the District is at the forefront of cities in the nation on marijuana policy, and only time will tell if the District is on the right side of history in legalizing marijuana.”

Voters in Washington D.C. had already overwhelmingly approved a marijuana initiative in 2014. The passing of Initiative 71 allows adults 21 and older to legally possess and cultivate a limited amount of marijuana in private. However, the District is unable to establish a regulatory system because Congress attached a “rider” to an appropriations bill that blocks the spending of any money to enact a law that would reduce marijuana-related penalties. Because of the rider, the District is prevented from making changes until it expires on September 30, 2016.

There’s a chance that Congress could include the rider on next year’s budget, but if that happens, a special savings known as “reserve funds” or the Local Budget Autonomy Act may be used to tax and regulate marijuana.

Kaitlyn Bocker, a policy analyst at Drug Policy Alliance, encouraged D.C. officials to follow the DOH’s recommendation.

“As DOH’s recommendation recognizes, a regulatory system will increase public health and safety, allow our policy makers to address much needed reforms, and generate tax revenue to fund treatment and education,” Bocker said in a statement. “District lawmakers should heed the Department of Health’s recommendation and move forward with establishing a regulatory system for marijuana immediately. Along with [DOH], 66% of District voters believe the District should pursue marijuana regulation despite a Congressional ban.”

Projections from a recent ArcView Market Research and New Frontier report estimate that legalized marijuana in the District of Columbia could be worth nearly $100 million by 2020.

To learn more about Washington, D.C. cannabis laws, visit the Medical Marijuana, Inc. education page.