On May 17, the mayor of Washington D.C. released a budget plan for the 2021 fiscal year, and it may have positive implications for the city’s medical marijuana program. Based on language included in the plan, it looks like the local government is preparing to implement regulations for medical marijuana sales as soon as Congress Okays it. Although low level possession and home cultivation has been legal for adults over 21 since a ballot measure was passed in 2014, the local government has been unable to add a legal sales component due to Congressional interference.
In the budget plan for the 2021 fiscal year, Mayor Muriel Bowser proposes to shift regulators’ and licensing responsibilities for Washington City’s current medical marijuana program from the Department of Health to the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration [ABRA]. In addition, the budget also calls for the ‘establishment of a non-lapsing Medical Cannabis Administration to collect funds received from medical cannabis licensing, permitting and regulating fees. According to a fiscal impact statement, the mayor’s plan would transfer $360,000 in local funds, $600,000 in special purpose revenue and six full time employees from the health department to the ABRA.
Although the move isn’t enough to launch legal cannabis sales in the city, it appears to set the stage for a tax and regulation system. If marijuana legalization legislation is passed when the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration is already regulating cannabis, it would take a lot less time for recreational cannabis sales regulations to be implemented.
“Under the most difficult of circumstances, we crafted a balanced budget that reflects our shared values and priorities, makes significant investment in our residents, and sets the district up for an efficient recovery. I look forward to working with the Council to ensure we invest in health, opportunity, prosperity and equality for the District,’ says Bowser.
However, with Congress’ continued efforts to derail marijuana legalization in Washington City, it may be a while before legal recreational sales are a thing. For several years, Mayor Bowser and a majority of Council members have called for the establishment of a legal recreational marijuana sales program but they have been blocked by a Congress-approved federal spending rider that prevents them from using local tax dollars to pay for it. According to Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton a vocal critic of the rider, the coronavirus pandemic demonstrates the need to permit retail sales to help offset some of the economic losses.
“At this moment of unparalleled need, D.C. should be able to collect taxes from all available sources, including from recreational marijuana, which is believed to be widely used in the district.”
It remains to be seen what industry players like Champignon Brands Inc. (CSE: SHRM) (OTCQB: SHRMF) (FWB: 496) think about the chances of Washington D.C. breaking free from the Congressional yoke preventing the city from implementing a regulated marijuana industry.
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