- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The D.C. Council voted Tuesday to impose a permanent ban on private marijuana-smoking clubs, ending months of political hand-wringing over where to allow residents to consume pot.

In a 7-to-6 vote, the council made permanent a 90-day ban on pot clubs in the nation’s capital, where marijuana possession is legal though still a federal offense.

The ban’s passage did not come easily: Democratic council members Brianne Nadeau and Vincent Orange both tried to delay the vote, saying a permanent ban would undercut a task force studying how to regulate pot clubs. Set up in February, the task force has 120 days to offer recommendations to lawmakers.

“To vote today for a permanent ban would … tie our hands and the hands of the District,” said Ms. Nadeau of Ward 1. “We’re used to Congress tying our hands. Why would we do it to ourselves?”

But council Chairman Phil Mendelson said the task force still has a job to do and that the permanent ban doesn’t shut down the conversation over pot clubs.

“With legislation in this area, whatever we do today we will revisit. And in my mind, we should revisit,” Mr. Mendelson said at Tuesday’s legislative meeting. “The task force has plenty it can do. It has a broad mandate.

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“Noting that Congress has not allowed the District to regulate the sale of marijuana, Mr. Mendelson said the council’s only alternative was to ban pot-smoking clubs.

“The problem is our inability to regulate, and until we have that ability, we should maintain the status quo,” the at-large Democrat said.

The District’s marijuana law, which went into effect early last year, allows residents at least 21 years old to grow, consume and possess limited amounts of cannabis in private residences. The public consumption of pot is outlawed, as are the sale and distribution of the plant.

However, the law was not clear on whether would-be smokers could gather together in private clubs. Spurred on by Mayor Muriel Bowser, lawmakers subsequently approved a clarification to prevent the practice and imposed a temporary ban to discuss the matter.

Some lawmakers had argued for private pot-smoking clubs, saying they would allow residents of federal public housing to use the drug more freely and other residents to smoke in designated areas far from children. Other lawmakers had argued that the District lacks the authority to regulate such clubs.Marijuana advocates expressed displeasure over the permanent ban.

Kaitlyn Boecker, policy coordinator for the Drug Policy Alliance, said the council turned its back on marijuana reform.

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“With today’s vote, the council signaled to Congress that they may freely interfere with District autonomy,” Ms. Boecker said. “In spite of all the talk of promoting District autonomy and control over local affairs, today’s vote suggests that council members would prefer to hide behind congressional authority to deflect their responsibilities, rather than do the work of legislating themselves.”

Adam Eidinger, whose group DCMJ led the charge for marijuana legalization in the District, went so far as to call Mr. Mendelson a 21st-century human rights violator.

“He’s a prohibitionist,” Mr. Eidinger said of the council chairman. “We’ll work for the next two years to get him out of office.”Coincidentally, task force’s first public meeting convened Tuesday night at City Hall, and it’s first private meeting will be held Friday.

The task force will hold a community meeting at the John A. Wilson Building on Wednesday at 6 p.m.

• Ryan M. McDermott can be reached at rmcdermott@washingtontimes.com.

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