District of Cannabis? Not so fast: Legalization not likely in D.C.

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Local,DC,Alan Blinder,Marijuana,Drug Legalization

Although some District residents are mere weeks away from their inaugural purchases of medical marijuana, top city officials say not to expect D.C. to follow Colorado and Washington state in a push for a broader legalization of the drug.

"I'm not prepared at this stage to support the decriminalization of any drugs at this point," Mayor Vincent Gray said. "Look at the most abused substance in our society, and it's probably alcohol. People do abuse, irrespective of whether it's legal or not."SClBPolice Chief Cathy Lanier also signaled her unease and flatly said she was worried about the effects of decriminalizing drugs besides marijuana.

"I know the legalization of marijuana is in large debate around the country, whether it be medical marijuana or just straight-out legalization of marijuana. That's one issue," Lanier said. "But I think when you talk about some of these other drugs that are extremely dangerous -- PCP, for example -- to say that we should decriminalize that and just allow people to have that without any penalty in the community would just be devastating."

But with the District's first marijuana dispensary poised to open next month, a senior city official familiar with the mayor's thinking told The Washington Examiner that Gray's position could evolve depending on how the city's medicinal program fares.

"It's a way for us to look at how the system works," said the official, who insisted on anonymity to speak candidly about policy deliberations.

The question of legalization appears certain to garner more attention in the coming months, with one candidate for an at-large council seat running on a platform of decriminalizing marijuana.

"I want to reform the D.C. marijuana laws and change possession of marijuana from a criminal misdemeanor to a civil infraction," Paul Zukerberg said in a recent interview. "That follows the steps that we've seen in Philadelphia and New York and so many other cities."SClBBut Zukerberg's campaign will take place not merely against a backdrop of municipal legalization trends but surging interest in states across America.

In November, Colorado and Washington voters approved recreational marijuana use, while Massachusetts backed a medicinal marijuana plan.

Washington expects to collect about $2 billion in revenues within five years from the 25 percent tax that state will levy on marijuana sales.

But Ward 7 Councilwoman Yvette Alexander, who last year aggressively pushed back against a plan to construct a medicinal marijuana cultivation facility in her ward, said the allure of revenues didn't make her want to loosen pot laws.

"Just medicinal," she said.

ablinder@washingtonexaminer.com

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Alan Blinder

Staff Reporter, D.C. City Hall
The Washington Examiner