The D.C. Council on Tuesday barred private clubs from allowing marijuana usage on their premises, dashing the hopes of some pot entrepreneurs who sought to host events where patrons could partake and share with others.
The emergency legislation, which passed unanimously and takes immediate effect, says any business that violates the law could have its business license revoked. It clarifies pot legalization laws that took effect five days ago.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser sought the measure to close a loophole in the voter-approved ballot measure, Initiative 71, that she believed left room for clubs to potentially charge membership fees for access to pot parties.
The initiative, which became law Thursday, allows people to possess up to 2 ounces of marijuana, smoke and grow marijuana on their private property and to transfer up to 1 ounce to others. Buying and selling marijuana, or smoking it in public, remains a criminal offense.
“I believe if we don’t pass this emergency there will be unintended consequences in neighborhoods throughout the city,” said pot legalization proponent David Grosso, citing the possibility of marijuana clubs with no regulation opening. “When I got involved in this, I wanted to see fewer and fewer District of Columbia residents going to jail, and not necessarily to see more and more District of Columbia residents being able to consume marijuana.”
D.C. Council members made a few adjustments to Tuesday’s emergency proposal before its adoption, noting the law would not have an effect on the ability of people to gather at private homes and smoke marijuana. The council also clarified that for a business to lose its license, a violation must have occurred at the address associated with the license.
The bill nonetheless evoked ire from legalization activists, who saw support of the bill as evidence lawmakers had already turned their backs on the marijuana legalization effort.
“All they did is just encourage more underground activity,” said Adam Eidinger, head of the D.C. Cannabis Campaign, which sponsored Initiative 71. “This gives us nowhere to go. Just hide in your house, go in your closet, and smoke.”
Mr. Eidinger said activists will now consider hosting public protests to openly smoke marijuana in opposition of the law.
“Why should we not have a smoke-in to protest the lack of private space to use cannabis legally?” he said.
Ahead of the vote, D.C. Council member Vincent Orange made a plea to legalization advocates asking them not to engage in public protests because he believed doing so could jeopardize future efforts to work with Congress on the legalization issue.
Congress has blocked the city from implementing any new laws to regulate or tax the sale of marijuana. Some federal lawmakers believe the District had no legal right to loosen its drug laws and have put the city on notice that they are investigating officials involved.
“We have put a lot of political capital on the line for use to go down this path,” Mr. Orange said, speaking to advocates. “I would hope that they would not engage in public defiance in having public smoke-outs at this point in time. This is a very delicate line, and we are still interacting with Congress and others.
“It would not be helpful for us to be divided,” Mr. Orange said.