As most areas residents know, the District of Columbia voters overwhelmingly passed a ballot initiative last year legalizing the personal ownership and use of a limited amount of marijuana and marijuana plants. The new law, which took effect on February 26, 2015, prohibits the sale of marijuana, prohibits the smoking or use of marijuana outside of a person’s home, and has other community protecting provisions. However, due to the fact that Congress in passing the current fiscal year’s budget, added a rider prohibiting the District of Columbia government from writing rules to implement this law, there are more questions than answers about how the law is to be interpreted and enforced.
For example, whether DC residents will be allowed to use marijuana on their property, but outside of an enclosed structure, and whether or not they can “give away” marijuana remains unknown. It appears, at least initially, that the DC government has instructed the police force to be liberal in allowing the use of marijuana as long as it is not done in a public place, and not made available for sale.
For Maryland and DC residents, this does not change their status. While it appears that a non-District of Columbia resident may legally use marijuana inside of a home in the District of Columbia, the new law does not alter their right to use or possess the drug in their resident States.
One may remember, several years ago, when one could legally purchase fireworks in the District of Columbia, that the Montgomery County Police actually set up checkpoints during the days leading up to July 4th each year near the Maryland-DC border to stop cars that they thought contained fireworks legally purchased in the District, but which were being illegally being transported into Maryland. This was easy for the police to do because many DC fireworks sales occurred at facilities set up very close to the DC-Maryland border.
While enforcement of the marijuana laws in Maryland and Virginia may not be as easy because of the clear difference of obtaining the fireworks at a stand that could be visible from the Maryland state line, as compared to the possession of marijuana that may be obtained anywhere in the District of Columbia, one must assume that the State governments and County officials in Virginia and Maryland are, at a minimum, discussing how to restrict the transport of marijuana across the DC line.
Meanwhile, two members of Congress have threatened to have the Department of Justice indict and prosecute DC City officials, including the DC Mayor, for allowing the law to go into effect based on the argument that the rider to the budget bill negated the DC law. This will be an interesting legal battle to watch.