Continuing Efforts to Legalize Marijuana Lounges in DC

The continuing debate over whether to allow marijuana lounges or private marijuana clubs in jurisdictions that have legalized the recreational use of marijuana surfaced again this week, and this time it was the subject of two different votes by the City Council of the District of Columbia.

In a strange development on Tuesday, the DC City Council first legalized the smoking of marijuana at certain rooftop bars and sidewalk cafes, where cigarette smoking is currently permitted, and in private clubs; and then 30 minutes later, reversed itself, extending the current ban for an additional 90 days.

The Status of Legalization in the District

For those who may not follow DC politics closely, let me briefly summarize the current marijuana laws in the District. We have legal medical marijuana in DC, including five licensed medical marijuana dispensaries; and the possession of up to 2 ounces of marijuana has been totally legalized for adults for recreational purposes (and the cultivation of up to 6 marijuana plants inside the home).

But to date, we have no legal recreational marijuana retail outlets. Congress used their control over the District budget to ban the legal sales of marijuana in DC. One must either grow their own marijuana in their home, or purchase it on the black market. (Technically any adult can give, for no remuneration, up to one ounce of marijuana to another adult in the District, but for obvious reasons, this is not an option that helps many consumers!)

Venues Where Marijuana Can Be Smoked Legally

And, as a result of that fear of Congressional interference with DC affairs, we also do not yet have legal venues where marijuana smokers can gather to socialize and enjoy their favorite herb in a social setting. Currently the only venue where the use of marijuana is legal in the District is a private home.

When marijuana was legalized in DC via voter initiative in 2014, Mayor Muriel Browser quickly asked the City Council to bar marijuana smoking at nightclubs, private clubs and virtually any other businesses licensed by the city. The council approved the ban, thinking it would be judicious to refrain from (literally) blowing smoke in the face of members of Congress who oppose legalization.

Because the District is not a state, and Congress retains the right to reject any legislation adopted by the City Council, including budgetary matters, our local elected officials have learned to avoid confrontation, when possible, with the Congress. Under restrictions enacted by Congress following the approval of the legalization initiative, the city is barred from appropriating any local revenue to enact or enforce more lenient marijuana laws. Mayor Browser was understandably concerned that without the ban, the city would expose itself to “an unworkable system of pot clubs, with no way to regulate its sale or consumption. “

The first vote on Tuesday would have allowed businesses to determine their own rules for pot use on their premises; and the second vote, held 30 minutes later, following a round of urgent calls to Council members by Mayor Browser, kept the existing ban in place until Feb. 2nd, when the matter will be revisited by the Council.

But the issue is far from settled. Several Council members, including some who reversed their vote when urged to do so by the Mayor, have indicated they may switch their vote again, and approve marijuana smoking at private clubs and certain bars, when the council revisits this matter again early next month.

Some on the Council said the current restrictions are unfair to those who live in federally subsidized housing, and thus have no legal place where they can smoke marijuana; and others on the Council saw the fight as another opportunity to push back Congress, that all-too-often likes to interfere in DC affairs.

So while marijuana clubs and lounges are not yet legal in the District of Columbia, it is quite possible that within a few weeks, the nation’s capitol may yet become the first jurisdiction in the country to permit marijuana smoking in a social setting. And that would surely give positive reinforcement to similar efforts underway in the other legalization states.

Marijuana smoking is a social activity, and there is absolutely no valid public policy justification for banning the use of marijuana at private clubs and bars and restaurants that currently permit cigarette smoking. It’s time as consumers we demand this right; we should not permit the prohibitionists to limit our smoking only to private homes.


This column was first published on


14 thoughts

  1. D.C. Vacation! Better book your hotels in advance (and use a vaporizer to keep the smell down if you have to stay in Silver Spring MD… Don’t take yer weed to hotels in Virginia unless you like cold AC, jail bars and corrupt judges).

    No where else on earth at any other time in history have we observed a greater hypocrisy from a Republican Congress than their interference with the implementation of Democratic law than with the residents of Washington, D.C. All about “states rights” and “let the states govern” then step on the citizens of D.C. during the same breath. Vote them out.

    Congress should regulate federal property ONLY and leave the rest of DC to the mayor and elected local government. Period.

    For F*€+’s sake, its the alleged capitol of the free world and Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-DC STILL doesn’t even have a valid vote! What happened to no taxation without representation?

    Deeeeep breath… Freeeeeddoooooommmmmm…

    “Literally blowing smoke in the face of Congress,” as funny as that sounds, could be a great contact high that may treat the epidemic of heartless hubris that allows any Congressman to uphold marijuana prohibition in the first place. Not that getting high while maintaining prohibition ever stopped a Republican Congress before.

    I understand the Mayor’s concerns; after all, certain members of Congress did threaten to incarcerate Mayor Bowser for even allowing the initiative to move forward. But clearly the city council smells bull$#!+ and can’t resist to exert their authority to follow the request of %70 of the voters in D.C. and emulate the laws in Colorado, where Denver is prepared for public marijuana consumption in their November ballot initiative. So I agree with you Keith; DC legalizes clubs and public venues first. thanks for helping me plan my summer vacation. 🙂

  2. In my opinion, a Republican led Congress will never let the people have their way.

    As a country, we need to vote about 98% of the current Republicans out and replace them with people who actually care and listen to what the people of this country want!

    Either that, or perhaps we could split America in two sections: Section One could be for those who like to be told what they can and can’t do by Big Brother (whether or not it makes any sense). Section Two can be for those of us that want to live the way American’s should be able to live (the free section).

    Our current Congress is just so ridiculous that my proposal is no more ridiculous!

  3. Rep. Andy Harris, MD (R-Maryland), my representative in the House, figured prominently in Congress’ interference. Mr. Harris is a wealthy, powerful, sanctimonious white-guy telling an inner city super-majority their vote doesn’t matter. He cited concern ‘the children’. In reality 1/3 of all black men under the age of 25 have been to jail. Once saddled with a criminal record, these men are effectively ‘kept down’ for yet another generation. You can’t get a good job with a criminal record, but you can sweep floors and flip burgers. Of course, you always could deal drugs on the street corner and make $1000 a day. Which would you chose? Which would you chose after 3 years of flipping burgers for the minimum wage? This is what Dr. Harris and his ilk have done to ‘the children’.

    Obviously, the folks in DC are fed up with it. Me, too.

    All the emails I receive from him reveal a all-to-willing puppet of the national prohibitionists. He seems incapable of independent thought on marijuana or any other issue out there. What good is a citizen statesman who lacks the courage or insight to bring his unique, informed views to the political process?

    I would think a physician would be keenly aware that tobacco is by far the most deadly addictive drug out there. It’s just takes a little longer than heroin or methamphetamine. I would think a physician would find appalling the deliberate use of government to prevent the development of marijuana as a medicine. (It’s been part of humanity’s pharmacopoeia for millenia.)

    (Oh yeh. Here’s where I say, “To thwart the advance of medical science is a crime against us all.”)

  4. @Julian

    ‘No where else on earth at any other time in history have we observed a greater hypocrisy from a Republican Congress than their interference with the implementation of Democratic law than with the residents of Washington, D.C. All about “states rights” and “let the states govern” then step on the citizens of D.C. during the same breath. Vote them out.”

    Right on! I hope Republican’s can take their party back from these cruel hypocrites. They’re certainly not getting my vote before they do.

    1. Perhaps hypocrisy always resolves itself since it needs a logical context to exist, however briefly.

    2. @Galileo;
      I believe it will require voting Democratic across the board this election season in Congress and Independent for Bernie Sanders as President to get rid of Citizens United any time soon.

  5. Please try to remember…….

    Law Enforcement in WA DC is making the difference. I really don’t know what the day’s orders are, but, some leaders are listening to their neighbors. Basically, leave pot smokers alone is what I see.

    And that’s just how easy this prohibition nonsense can be handled. Blow smoke in their faces.

  6. How classy… using a picture of yourself in a pose in cartoon form in an article completely unrelated to you…

  7. For example, a building of over such and such size, capable of accommodating over such and such number of people by fire code, will be prosecuted, BUT those places that are less in size and capacity than stipulated in the law/policy will be left alone, remain undeterred. Methinks there\’d be many small time operations flying under the radar that way. If they had an Amsterdam style Mellow Yellow setup whereby there was a house dealer who basically rented table or counter space at the shop, out of towners could get their quality tourist weed. The feds would be playing whack-a-mole doing surveillance on, busting, and prosecuting probably hundreds of small time cannabis coffeeshops/social consuming venues. Unfortunately, as the feds are wont to do, they’ll go after high profile people and cherry pick those they want to make examples out of. They’ll soon clog their system and then it’ll slow down to a constipated pace. I mean, what federal law enforcement is there in DC to enforce the federal ban on cannabis besides the DEA if the DC police force does NOT do it for them? They’ll be swamped, and won’t be able to control the problem they created by creating cannabis prohibition in the first place. I don’t see how the feds could prosecute the mayor and public officials for taking cost-control measures making that do NOT enforce cannabis prohibition under a certain floor space size or people capacity that is NOT a nuisance to the neighborhood because of all the comings and goings of the patrons and their cars. Small is the name of the game. Little fish are not worth catching.

  8. Council can pass a law that has the effect of simply not enforcing a (federal) ban on cannabis consumer social clubs. I mean, can the feds force DC to spend money on enforcement. Council can best use that money some other way where it’s needed more. Couldn’t DC come up with guidelines for which they WILL enforce and prosecute a ban on cannabis social clubs so that anything that does NOT fall within those guidelines will NOT be enforced or persecuted and thus will be tolerated and left alone by DC law enforcement?

  9. You’ll have to put two and two together to make sense of my posts. 2000 characters is far too few. Who the hell made that decision?! You should increase it to 3500 characters. Si no, me doy. I’ll just keep splitting the stream of consciousness bloggings in two.

    I’ll be looking for an answer and legal commentary from the NORML council to see if the small fish angle will keep the feds away.

  10. When sitting through the hearings on legalization, bias and manipulation by the white majority is evident and promoted using the fog of war on drugs to continue the intolerance and ignorance that allowed the govt. to patent a plant for its medicinal properties while it enslaves its users.

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