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Bowser Says Legal Marijuana Sales May Come Sooner Rather Than Later

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Adam Eidinger, chairman of the DC Cannabis Campaign, works Oct. 9 on posters encouraging D.C. voters to vote yes on Initiative 71 to legalize small amounts of marijuana for personal use.
(AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Adam Eidinger, chairman of the DC Cannabis Campaign, works Oct. 9 on posters encouraging D.C. voters to vote yes on Initiative 71 to legalize small amounts of marijuana for personal use.

It's only been a day since 69 percent of D.C. voters gave approval to a ballot initiative legalizing the possession of two ounces of marijuana, but mayor-elect Muriel Bowser says that a system of retail sales of the drug may not be far off.

Speaking at her first press conference after defeating D.C. Council member David Catania in the city's general election, Bowser said that crafting a system for the legal sale of marijuana will be among the issues her transition team will discuss in the coming weeks.

"We'll turn our attention to it, look at the experiences of other states to make sure we're not making mistakes that have already been made, and put a system in place," she said. "I see no reason why we wouldn't follow a regime similar to how we regulate and tax alcohol."

The ballot initiative approved on Tuesday allows residents over the age of 21 to possess marijuana, grow six plants in their homes and transfer up to one ounce to another person without renumeration. It does not allow for marijuana to be sold, though the D.C. Council is considering a bill that would legalize and tax sales of the drug. One D.C. official estimated that the legal market for marijuana could be worth $130 million per year.

At the press conference, Bowser hinted that she wanted to see a tax-and-regulate bill pass quickly. Responding to a question from an Associated Press reporter on whether she'd want to see Initiative 71 take effect without a concurrent system for retail sales of marijuana, Bowser simply said "no."

After the D.C. Board of Elections certifies the results of Tuesday's election, the Council will send the initiative to Congress for a 30-day review. Once that's completed, the initiative will take effect, possibly in March or April.

It's not clear that it will emerge from Congress untouched, though. Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.), said Tuesday that he would try and stop the measure from taking effect, and if coupled with a system for legal sales, could set up a broader conflict between D.C. and Congress over broader marijuana legalization and home rule.

"I know it's a bad idea. It's bad for the brains of children whose use of marijuana is going to increase with legalization. That's what happened with every state that's legalized. It shouldn't happen in our backyard, it shouldn't happen in our nation's capital. They're taking this step way too soon after decriminalization," said Harris, who unsuccessfully tried to block the decriminalization bill that took effect in July.

Bowser may also face pushback from the proponents of the legalization initiative, who say they broadly support a system for legal sales of marijuana but do not want the initiative passed by voters on Tuesday tethered to that system.

"We're against any bill that would modify the initiative," said Adam Eidinger, chair of the D.C. Cannabis Campaign, the group behind the initiative. "It's not up to her to change this."

Eidinger said that home cultivation can be used a precursor to legal sales, as occurred in Colorado, but that those sales should not replace the initiative approved by voters.

"We always wanted this to be about home cultivation," he said. "They should respect the will of the voters."

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