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On Tuesday afternoon, the D.C. Council voted to permanently ban any social consumption of marijuana other than inside a private residence, despite a public forum being scheduled that evening to explore the merits of continuing the ban.
Among the concerns voiced by activists is that the ban forces people who live in public housing, where consuming marijuana can lead to eviction, to break the law by smoking in public. This policy predominantly impacts poor people of color in the District, and many residents think that allowing social use clubs would go a long way toward addressing this issue. There may be options to overturn the ban, however.
Numerous people brought up the racial disparity in marijuana-related arrests, which continues even in the era of decriminalization and legalization—81.9 percent of the 259 public consumption arrests from July 17, 2014 (when public consumption became a criminal offense) to the end of 2015 were of black people, according to data from the Drug Policy Alliance.
Kate Bell, an attorney for the Marijuana Policy Project, said that the ban isn’t the end of the road. “There are other avenues D.C. could explore,” she told DCist. “We’re not just talking about clubs. It’s a much broader issue.”
Nikolas Schiller of DCMJ has already written a draft referendum on the ban. But it’s an open question whether the referendum, if passed, could be implemented given the Congressional rider that hamstrings the city’s ability to regulate drug legalization. Bell says that MPP is working to ensure that the rider doesn’t appear in next year’s Congressional budget.
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