WASHINGTON (April 5, 2016) – Even Washington D.C. is getting in on nullifying Washington D.C.’s marijuana prohibition. A bill that would expand access to medicinal cannabis in the U.S. capital passed out of an important Washington D.C. City Council committee last month. The bill would further open up the marijuana market in Washington D.C. and solidify the foundation to nullify federal prohibition.

Councilmember Yvette M. Alexander introduced Bill 21-210 (B21-0210) in May of last year. The act would allow patients from states with medical marijuana laws to access medicinal cannabis in Washington D.C. The proposed law would also eliminate limits on the number of marijuana plants Washington D.C. cultivation centers can grow.

On March 9, the Committee on Health and Human Services passed the measure 3-0.

Under current law, cultivation centers can only grow up to 1,000 plants. B21-0210 would remove that cap. According to a committee report, there have been significant shortages of medical marijuana in Washington D.C. in recent months due to the cap. The Washington D.C. medical marijuana program is currently expanding by roughly 10 percent every month.

The bill features other provisions that would expand access to medical marijuana in D.C. It would allow patients to use medical marijuana at a residence other than their own with permission the person who lives there. It would also allow naturopathic physicians to recommend medical marijuana. The bill would also ease some of the regulations on businesses operating under the existing medical marijuana program.


Passage of this bill would expand the marijuana market in Washington D.C. but federal prohibition would remain in place.

Of course, the federal government lacks any constitutional authority to ban or regulate marijuana within the borders of a state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.

While D.C. City Council cannot alter federal law, it would take another step toward nullifying in effect the federal ban. In fact, D.C. serves as the perfect example of how local and state action can effectively nullify federal prohibition, and how one step leads to bolder steps and a growing market.

D.C. voters first legalized marijuana for medical use in 1998, by a 69-31 margin. In 2014, the council reformed the city’s law, allowing people with more conditions to access medicinal cannabis and expanding the number of plants cultivation centers could possess at one time. Building on legalization for medical use, activists successfully passed a ballot initiative in 2014 legalizing possession of of up to two ounces of marijuana for personal use. B21-0210 represents yet another step forward. If ultimately passed, it will further expand the medical marijuana market and drive another nail into the coffin of federal prohibition.

The irony is that Washington D.C.’s residents and city government have pushed this far right in the shadow of Capitol Hill. It shows the ineffectiveness of federal prohibition in the face of determined local non-compliance. When localities or states open the door by removing a layer of law, people push through and expand markets. When that happens, the federal government can do very little to stop it. In fact, state and local enforcement props up prohibition. With that removed, the feds become essentially a paper tiger.

FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. By easing the city ordinances, the Washington D.C. council would has removed some of the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests. Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly-budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution.

The lesson?

The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state and local assistance.

Washington D.C. joins a growing number of states simply ignoring federal prohibition. Colorado, Washington state and Alaska have all legalized both recreational and medical marijuana, and 23 states now allow cannabis for medical use. With nearly half the country legalizing marijuana, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition any more. The feds need state cooperation to fight the “drug war,” and that has rapidly evaporated in the last few years with state legalization, practically nullifying the ban.

“The lesson here is pretty straight forward. When enough people say, ‘No!’ to the federal government, and enough states pass laws backing those people up, there’s not much the feds can do to shove their so-called laws, regulations or mandates down our throats,” Tenth Amendment Center founder and executive director Michael Boldin said.


Mike Maharrey

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