Because Washington, D.C. isn’t a state, it’s marijuana legalization laws are a bit more complicated. After a ballot measure passed in 2014, D.C. joined the growing list of cities and states to legalize marijuana use. Initiative 71 went into effect last February, allowing people over 21-years-old to legally grow and consume weed in their homes, and possess up to two ounces in public.
But just a few days after, the city council passed emergency legislation proposed by Mayor Muriel Bowser that banned consumption in private venues, including restaurants, bars, and marijuana social clubs.
On Tuesday afternoon, the D.C. City Council briefly agreed to let the ban on marijuana use in privately owned businesses expire. But soon after, several council members reversed course and voted at the last minute to extend the ban for another 90 days.
The vote matters not just as a cannabis rights issue, but also as an economic justice issue.
The ban on consuming marijuana in privately owned venues targets the poor, who do not own their homes, and therefore have restricted or no access to legal spaces to smoke pot.
Marijuana policy advocates have argued that the ban in privately-owned spaces undermines what D.C. residents voted for in 2014.
It also means that low-income people — who don’t own homes — have even more limitations placed on them.
Weed consumption is strictly prohibited in public housing, meaning poor people can still be punished for using recreational or medical marijuana in their homes.
And for low-income residents who are lucky enough to own a residential property, acquiring the tools to grow their product — reflectors, ballasts, lights, and exhaust fans — is costly.
All of this means that legalization in D.C. continues to be an economic justice issue. Historically, the most heavily-policed areas of the city are neighborhoods where poor people of color live — even after D.C. decriminalized the drug.
While marijuana arrests have plummeted in the last year, restricting pot consumption in low-income neighborhoods keeps a target on poor people’s backs.