A new bill being introduced in D.C.would make it possible for returning citizens, those with a felony or misdemeanor cannabis offenses, to work in the cannabis industry. It was introduced last week and would repeal the part of the Legalization of Marijuana for Medical Treatment Initiative of 1999 that currently keeps them from working. 

“When the District first enacted this prohibition, it was in part out of concern that allowing returning citizens to participate might invite federal intervention. These concerns were understandable at the time, but the expansion of this industry across the country and changing perceptions of the use of medical cannabis has made that concern obsolete,” White said in an emailed statement. “The District cannot continue to bar returning citizens from an industry that offers good paying local jobs.”

What The Bill Means

If this bill passes, it would create a program that would allow returning citizens to get into the industry, as well as provide incentives for residents applying for licenses and those who wanted to start dispensaries, cultivation centers, or testing labs in cases where returning citizens are at least 50 percent of the ownership. It was introduced by At-Large Councilmember David Grosso, Ward 7’s Vincent Gray, Ward 1’s Brianne Nadeau, and Ward 8’s Trayon White, and will be reviewed at the end of the month. 

“If all you have is a marijuana offense, I think you should be able to work in the industry,” Grosso was quoted as saying when the ruling first passed. From the start, he was opposed to allowing those with prior charges the chance to work. 

This wasn’t the first time that the issue has come up. Even when the initiative just passed, legislators like Grosso were already speaking about a policy they found to be unfair and even ironic. While there is now less of a stigma against cannabis, those who were charged before prohibition started crumbling are still facing the consequences. 

Additionally, supporters argue that barring people with a history in the illicit cannabis industry from joining legally keeps money in the gray market and supports unregulated cannabis operations. 

“Many residents who have returned home are focused on being productive members of our city, but face significant barriers, which is why I also included a social equity component in the bill,” White wrote in a statement. “Specifically, the legislation would waive application fees and provide technical assistance to assist returning citizens in competing for medical cannabis licenses when additional licenses become available.”

“We’ve generally been asking for rights for returning citizens to be in the industry,” added Adam Eidinger, backer of Initiative 71 and the advocacy group DC Marijuana Justice. “People who have served their time should be able to work in this industry, regardless of whether they’ve had a past drug conviction, or really, any other conviction.”

If this bill passes, the future of legal D.C. cannabis will look a lot more inclusive of those who were marginalized by the war on drugs, and the city could become a mecca for past defenders looking to get into the industry.

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