- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 2, 2016

In a surprising turnaround, the D.C. Council is rethinking a ban on private marijuana-smoking clubs, as pot advocates press for places for residents to light up outside of their homes.

The council on Tuesday approved the formation of a task force to examine the feasibility of clubs for marijuana smokers, and postponed action on a bill that would permanently ban such establishments.

“Democracy and common sense prevailed in the District today,” said Kaitlyn Boecker, a policy analyst for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). “Today’s withdrawal of the permanent ban shows that elected officials have finally begun to heed their constituents’ wishes, but the fight for the creation of regulated places where adults can legally consume marijuana is far from over.”

Council member Vincent Orange, at-large Democrat, introduced the task force amendment. It calls for a seven-member panel to issue within 120 days a report to the council on city agencies that need to be involved in regulating clubs, the amount of marijuana that would be allowed in a venue, how security would be handled, the number and location of venues, and whether the District can legally allow clubs to host pot-smoking events.

The task force will not be allowed to look into the sale and taxation of marijuana, and only will make recommendations to the council, Mr. Orange said.

The panel will consist of two members from the D.C. Council, one from the Office of the D.C. Attorney General and five from city agencies, including the Metropolitan Police Department and the D.C. Health Department, who will be appointed by Mayor Muriel Bowser.

Last week, the Judiciary Committee quietly approved a permanent ban on private clubs, with Council Chairman Phil Mendelson casting the deciding vote to send the legislation to the full council.

Marijuana advocates argued that the committee rushed the bill through without considering alternatives. The Drug Policy Alliance accused lawmakers of sneaking their vote, and said voters who backed the city’s legalization initiative were being duped.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Kenyan McDuffie, Ward 5 Democrat, pulled the permanent ban bill Tuesday before the full council meeting. Lawmakers approved instead a temporary ban that included the task force amendment.

The temporary ban aims to clarify a provision in a new city law allowing marijuana usage in private homes. It clarifies that a private club is “a place to which the public is invited,” therefore pot cannot be consumed in such places.

D.C. voters approved the legalization of marijuana in November 2014, and the law became effective last February. It allows residents to possess and grow small amounts of pot, but it bans the sale, distribution and public consumption of the weed.

Pot advocates have argued that the ban discriminates against people in public housing and residents who want to smoke marijuana but not in their homes.

Council member Brianne Nadeau, Ward 1 Democrat, supported the task force amendment but said that Advisory Neighborhood Commissions should be able to weigh in on where private clubs would be located. Ms. Nadeau also encouraged the task force to look into membership fees for private clubs that do not exclude lower income users.

Another voice of support came from council member Elissa Silverman, at-large independent, who said the task force would give the District the opportunity to “truly grapple with the public use of marijuana.”

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

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