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drug policy


Interagency Council on Behavioral Health Establishment Amendment Act of 2019

Interagency Council on Behavioral Health Establishment Amendment Act of 2019

Introduced: March 5, 2019

Co-introducers: Councilmembers Elissa Silverman, Brianne Nadeau, Brandon Todd, and Kenyan McDuffie


Summary: To amend The Department of Behavioral Health Establishment Act of 2013 to establish an Interagency Council on Behavioral Health and to describe its members, powers, and duties.

Councilmember Grosso's Introduction Statement:

Today, along with my colleagues Councilmembers Brianne Nadeau, Elissa Silverman, Brandon Todd, and Kenyan McDuffie, I am introducing the Interagency Council on Behavioral Health Establishment Amendment Act of 2019.

Modeled after the Interagency Council on Homelessness, this legislation establishes an Interagency Council on Behavioral Health for the purpose of facilitating cross-sector, cabinet-level leadership in planning, policymaking, program development, and budgeting for a culturally competent, outcome-based, behavioral health system of care.

Just last year, the Office of the Auditor and the Council for Court Excellence completed a robust report focused on the Department of Behavioral Health's work with justice-involved individuals and the criminal justice system broadly.

The report was revealing, highlighting enormous gaps in service and raising serious questions about agency leadership.

It was the culmination of a series of perplexing and deeply troubling events—a trend that unfortunately continues.

In January, federal officials launched an investigation into the Department's mishandling of millions of dollars awarded over the past 2-years to treat opioid addiction and reduce fatal overdoses—money that was never actually spent to that effect.

That audit was just the most recent example of inexcusable lapses on the part of DBH.

In my opinion, we have absolutely failed in the provision of quality behavioral health services for our residents.

There has been an inadequate response to the opioid crisis specifically and almost no prioritization of substance abuse treatment generally; delayed or non-payment to our dedicated community-based providers; the closure of several Core Service agencies; a failure of the iCAMS billing system; poor rollout of the School-Based Mental Health program as well as the continuing challenge to implement it with fidelity; and of course the many issues highlighted within the CCE report.

Further, DBH has been without permanent leadership since November as the Director of DC Health is now forced to split her time between both agencies, an arrangement that is wholly untenable.

For all of these reasons, I believe now is the time to elevate, prioritize, and strengthen our behavioral health system of care.

As a city, it is imperative that we do better for our residents. In order to chart a path forward we have to be honest about our missteps, clear in our vision, and diligent in our effort to provide the highest quality care to some of the most vulnerable among us.

Through this legislation we will ensure that all of the relevant stakeholders are at the table and afforded a meaningful opportunity to shape our system and develop a comprehensive strategic plan to move us forward.



Dept. of Corrections response leaves unanswered questions on employees in medical marijuana programs

In November, Councilmember Grosso sent a letter to the Department of Corrections to inquire about the Department’s policy and practices for drug and alcohol testing of employees. Specifically, the councilmember was interested in whether or not DOC was taking into account employees’ enrollment in medical marijuana programs as part of such testing.

“If an employee, for example, is undergoing treatment for cancer and is prescribed medical marijuana by a doctor to help with the side effects of treatment, it seems unreasonable and inappropriate that the employee would be penalized, or even subject to termination, because of seeking such medical care,” Grosso wrote.

After a delayed response, Director Quincy Booth laid out DOC’s practices and procedures and its adherence to District law. However, the response sidestepped a question specifically aimed at how DOC takes into account an employees enrollment in the medical marijuana program, instead focusing on how DOC complies, as other D.C. agencies do, with the impact of Initiative 71.

Initiative 71 dealt with recreational, not medical, marijuana.

The D.C. Department of Human Resources specifically sets out an exception for medical marijuana in District Personnel Manual Instruction No. 4-34, similar to exceptions for other prescription drugs

Councilmember Grosso will follow up with the Department of Corrections and the Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety to ensure District government employees in the medical marijuana program are treated equally to those who require other prescription drugs for medical purposes.

Read Councilmember Grosso’s letter and DOC’s responses below.



New hope for Grosso’s bill to legalize marijuana sales in D.C.

For Immediate Release:
January 8, 2019
Matthew Nocella, 202.286.1987 -

New hope for Grosso’s bill to legalize marijuana sales in D.C.

Washington, D.C. – With control of Congress changing hands, Councilmember David Grosso’s legislation to legalize, tax, and regulate the sale of marijuana in the District of Columbia–reintroduced today–may have new hope.

“Since D.C. voters approved Initiative 71 to decriminalize recreational marijuana we have seen marijuana-related arrests plummet, representing thousands of District residents who were spared needless involvement in the judicial system,” Grosso said. “The logical next step, to continue to reduce arrests and to bring marijuana totally out of the shadows, is to set up a strong tax and regulatory system.”

In the newest version of the Marijuana Legalization and Regulation Act, Grosso included new provisions intended to remedy the wrongs of the misguided, racist War on Drugs.

“The War on Drugs was a failure—it was increasing our mass incarceration problem and not helping with our drug dependency problem. Further, the data also has consistently shown that the War on Drugs has been racist in its implementation,” said Grosso. “It’s a racial justice issue. It’s not enough that we change these policies, we also have to proactively heal the communities most negatively impacted.”

The bill allocates a portion of the funds from the taxes on marijuana to: drug abuse services and prevention efforts; supporting long-term, African-American, formerly incarcerated, and other residents affected by criminalization of marijuana to own or work at these businesses; and giving grants to communities impacted most by criminalization. It would also automatically expunge criminal records solely involving marijuana.

Ten states have legalized the sale of marijuana. The District was prohibited from using local tax dollars to establish a tax and regulate scheme by Congress, which has attached a provision in federal budgets since 2014 that has left D.C. in limbo on recreational marijuana.

“This status quo has led to a confusing and problematic state of affairs with residents and businesses unclear on what is legal, what is not, and wondering how it can be that it is legal to possess marijuana but not to buy or sell it. We need to fix this,” Grosso said.

Grosso has introduced a form of this legislation in every Council Period since 2013. This time, however Democrats control the House of Representatives, where the rider on federal budgets has always originated.

“The new reality on Capitol Hill means that chances of D.C. legalizing marijuana sales are greater than ever,” Grosso said.

At-Large Councilmembers Anita Bonds and Robert White, and Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau, signed on as co-introducers of the legislation.