At a recent legislative meeting by the Washington, D.C.’s Council of the District of Columbia meeting on April 2, the council unanimously approved the “Medical Cannabis Patient Card Extension 4/20 Medical Cannabis Sales Tax Holiday Week Emergency Amendment Act of 2024,” which addresses three primary changes by amending the DC Official Code Title 7.

First, it makes medical cannabis patient and caregiver cards now valid for six years (previously it lasted only two years before requiring renewal).

Second, it provides the Alcoholic Beverage and Cannabis Administration (ABCA) with “emergency closure authority.” This gives the agency power to close unlicensed cannabis retailers and seize “any” cannabis products if it poses a threat to the safety of the public.

And finally, it extends the currently existing medical cannabis tax holiday (April 20-24, which was approved in 2022) to now last between April 15 to April 28.

According to councilmember Kenyan McDuffie, the measure is essential to the success of the district’s medical cannabis industry. “The popular tax holiday is critical to the district’s effort to attract qualifying patients back to the legal market as well as sustainable and viable medical cannabis program,” McDuffie said.

Prior to the measure being passed, Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser wrote about pending legislation being considered by the council, urging them to consider the tax holiday extension. “This change will improve patient access to the program and would make the District consistent with Maryland’s six-year medical cannabis patient card,” Bowser wrote. “The bill further supports our local industry by implementing a Medical Cannabis Tax Holiday, which temporarily suspends sales taxes for purchases made at licensed medical cannabis dispensaries.”

She added that approving the ABCA’s power to shut down illegal cannabis stores is crucial. “Most importantly, this measure explicitly authorizes the Alcoholic Beverage and Cannabis Administration to close unlicensed cannabis retail stores,” Bowser explained. “As we saw in the recent tragic murder inside an unlicensed cannabis dispensary, these unlicensed stores pose a direct threat to our communities and we must take strong action to shut down bad actors.”

The murder that Bowser referenced includes the death of local rapper, Phil Da Phuture, who was working at a dispensary when a robbery took place. Although he cooperated with the robbers, he was shot, and later died at a nearby hospital.

During the meeting, council members said that there are approximately 200 illegal dispensaries operating through Washington, D.C., and only 70 of which have applied for a license.

The council also chose to veto a measure that would have changed zoning rules for placing dispensaries near schools, and discussed another measure that seeks to revisit the authority of the ABCA.

Currently, dispensaries must be located at least 300 feet away from schools or recreational areas that children frequent, although medical cannabis dispensaries are exempt from this if they stand in an industrial or commercial area. “This emergency legislation would remove that exception and prohibit all medical cannabis retailers from locating within 300 feet of schools or recreation centers,” said councilmember Brooke Pinto, who added that if passed, it would “…allow affected applicants to change their locations without negatively impacting their locations.”

Only two dispensaries would be affected by the measure if it was passed, but McDuffie explained his disapproval. “It is tough work to find a location,” McDuffie said, adding that qualifying real estate in Washington, D.C. “…is not readily accessible when it comes to what they are required to use and the restrictions we put on them in terms of where they can locate. So I can’t support this.”

Washington D.C. passed an initiative to remove criminal penalties for minor cannabis offenses in July 2014, which was followed by the passage of an initiative to tax and regulate adult-use cannabis in November 2014, which became effective in February 2015.

Earlier this year in January, the council passed emergency legislation that cracks down on illegal dispensaries relying on the “gifting” loophole to make sales. “This gap in the law, if not fixed, will render the onramp meaningless, allow unlicensed establishments that do not apply to keep on operating, and significantly harm the good actors that have applied,” said councilmember Charles Allen in a January council meeting.

The ABCA can now “issue warnings, fines, and cease-and-desist orders to unlicensed businesses that have not applied to the medical cannabis program,” according to a report from the DCist.

Unfortunately, a local illegal dispensary called Kaliiva which had already started its transition from operating illegally to applying for a legal license recently raided earlier last month. Kaliiva was one of the first illegal dispensaries to receive a placard, according to The Outlaw Report, which is the first step toward receiving a license. The DC Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), as well as the Department of Health, and the DC Licensing and Consumer Protection, have the power to conduct inspections on their own accord, despite what the ABCA has established.

 [[{“value”:”Between April 15-28, there will be no taxes on medical cannabis.
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