Council Helps Avoid COVID Hardship Evictions, Supports Medical Marijuana, Creates COVID Vaccination Leave

In its most recent Legislative Meeting, the Council took its latest legislative step to avoid the eviction of residents facing financial hardship due to COVID, moved to shore up the medical marijuana market, and created paid leave to receive and recover from COVID vaccinations.

The Council’s efforts to keep residents in their homes have taken different forms through the course of the pandemic. In the early days of COVID, the Council put in place an eviction ban, as well as a foreclosure ban, for those usable to afford monthly housing payments. The next phase of eviction avoidance came when federal funding to cover missed utility and rent payments was provided to the District. The Council required landlords seeking eviction for unpaid rent from tenants to file for this STAY DC aid. When the Mayor abruptly sunsetted the STAY DC program effective October 27, since no stopgap measures were put into place, the link between required STAY DC application and eviction avoidance was severed.

Via the Tenant Safe Harbor emergency bill passed unanimously at its most recent meeting, the Council created that much-needed missing stopgap measure. If the Mayor signs the bill, when a landlord files an eviction complaint, a tenant can raise a defense that the non-payment was due to COVID-based financial or medical hardship. The eviction will then not occur if the judge finds that the hardship in question meets the terms laid out in the bill. This does not vacate the unpaid rent, it simply avoids the eviction. The Council passed both emergency and temporary versions of the bill. The emergency bill, if signed, will remain in effect for 90 days. The temporary bill would remain in effect for 225 days, but it must be passed by the Council a second time, and its content may be somewhat modified prior to that time.

Also on the topic of COVID, the Council’s longstanding efforts to create paid medical leave for those receiving, and recovering from, COVID vaccination, finally came to fruition after extensive discussions with the business community. In the end, what was provided was two hours of leave to receive a vaccination, and eight hours leave for recovery, per vaccine shot. Only private sector employers with 20 or more workers will be covered by the measure.

Also at its most recent meeting, the Council took efforts to support the District’s medical marijuana providers. Currently, storefront sales of marijuana in the District occur in two categories of venues. The first, which are fully legal, are medical marijuana dispensaries. The second category is comprised of gray market stores that sell assorted merchandise at an extreme markup, but offer a “gift” of marijuana in addition (because of a proviso in the District’s marijuana legalization law that bans the sale, but allows the gifting, of the drug).

With Congress seemingly on the path to eliminating a longstanding budget rider forbidding the District from regulating and taxing marijuana sales, it is essential to understand the fate of both categories of sellers as the District envisions its future marijuana marketplace. While the current and future legal status of the gray market sellers was not addressed at the most recent meeting, efforts were made to shore up the medical marijuana market. The bill extends expired patient and practitioner credentials until January 31, 2022 and puts into place a facilitated process to renew those credentials for a two-year term beginning that same date.

In other action at the most recent meeting, in a rare move, the Council voted to discharge the nominations of Natalie Hopkinson and Cora Masters Barry from the Committee of the Whole so that they could be voted on directly at the Legislative Meeting. Both nominations were subsequently approved.

The Council’s next Legislative Meeting is scheduled to be held on December 7.