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  • Writer's pictureCenter for Local Policy Analysis (CLPA)

Navigating the Digital Frontier: Exploring Cryptocurrency Regulation and DC Bill B25-0005



If you've been keeping up with the news or browsing social media in recent years, you've probably come across discussions about digital assets like Bitcoin, Dogecoin, and other tokens. These assets have been a significant topic of interest, with debates focusing on their potential value, regulatory measures, and the necessity for regulation. One notable recent event was the Securities and Exchange Commission suing Coinbase and Binance, two of the largest cryptocurrency companies in the nation, leading to the latter's collapse shortly afterward.


After seeing an increased interest in digital assets since the initial Bitcoin boom in the 2010s, the federal government and states across the country have developed their own digital asset policies, and by 2023, nearly every state in the country, including the District of Columbia, had introduced bills in their legislatures aimed at regulating these digital assets to protect consumers from potential risks.


This week, the DC Council had its final reading on Bill "B25-0005 - Uniform Commercial Code Amendment Act of 2023," which aims to update laws in the District of Columbia regarding digital assets such as cryptocurrency, non-fungible tokens (NFTs), and electronic promises to pay.


This is a new and evolving topic with several complex terms that readers may be unfamiliar with, so in order to fully understand the issue being discussed, we need to provide a brief, high-level overview of digital assets


Historical Context


The general concept of digital assets is not new; it has continued to evolve alongside the internet and the advancement of digital technologies. Initially, digital assets were associated with digital content that could be stored, shared, and distributed electronically, such as music, videos, and software. However, everything changed in 2009 with the creation of Bitcoin by an anonymous person or group known as Satoshi Nakamoto, marking the beginning of the rise of cryptocurrencies and a significant shift in the landscape of digital assets. Bitcoin introduced the concept of a decentralized digital currency, which operates on a peer-to-peer network without the need for intermediaries like banks.


Since then, the digital asset space has expanded rapidly, including various types of tokens and assets built on blockchain and distributed ledger technologies. These encompass cryptocurrencies like Ethereum, which introduced smart contracts, and stablecoins designed to maintain a stable value relative to fiat currencies, such as the US dollar or euro. Additionally, the emergence of NFTs has introduced new opportunities for representing ownership of digital assets such as artwork, collectibles, and virtual real estate on blockchain platforms. This convergence of digital assets with fields like finance, gaming, art, and entertainment continues to foster innovation and shape the evolving landscape of digital economies.


What is a Digital Asset?


Digital assets are digital representations of value stored on secure distributed ledgers, as outlined by regulatory bodies. A distributed ledger operates as a digital database system spread across multiple locations or participants. Each participant in the database can access identical information and independently verify and record transactions. An example of a distributed ledger that is recognized by regulatory bodies is blockchain technology, which those unfamiliar with cryptocurrencies may recognize that term from conversations about Bitcoin and Ethereum. Blockchain ledgers are taken care of by a bunch of computers working together. They use cryptographic techniques, which are methods of securing information using complex codes, to make sure transactions are safe and accurate. They encompass various forms, including convertible virtual currencies like cryptocurrencies (such as Bitcoin and Dogecoin), stablecoins (like Tether and USD Coin), and non-fungible tokens (NFTs). Fiat currency is not directly involved in creating or managing digital assets. However, digital assets that hold equivalent value or can substitute for fiat currency are termed convertible virtual currency, with cryptocurrencies being a notable example, widely used for transactions, digital trading, and exchange with real currencies or other digital assets.


Differences between digital assets


Let's begin with cryptocurrencies (or crypto for short), which are, by far, the most widely recognized digital currency by the average person. To better understand crypto in the real world, imagine entering a marketplace where the only currency used and accepted is entirely online, with no physical counterpart. This online currency is a cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin and Dogecoin.


Unlike traditional money backed by a government and bound by geographical borders, these digital currencies operate globally. They are unrestricted by conventional financial systems, so cryptocurrency's value fluctuates widely and unpredictably often. They are underpinned by blockchain technology, a digital ledger that records transactions securely and transparently. Each crypto unit is interchangeable with another of its kind, much like how one dollar bill can be exchanged for another, making them "fungible" or easily exchangeable or substitutable in value.


Now, let's shift our focus to stablecoins. These coins are designed to bring stability to the often volatile crypto market. Stablecoins are tied to more stable assets like the US dollar or gold, giving them a steadiness uncommon in their cryptocurrency cousins. Holding a stablecoin is like to having the digital version of a physical dollar in your virtual wallet, which maintains its same value over time, unlike the rollercoaster ride often seen with other cryptocurrencies. Potential price appreciation for stablecoins is usually lower than traditional cryptocurrencies.


Lastly, we have non-fungible tokens or NFTs. Many readers may be familiar with NFTs as they have been making waves on social media, particularly in the art and collectibles market. Each NFT is a unique digital entity, representing ownership or proof of authenticity of a specific item, often a piece of digital art or a collectible. Think of an NFT as the digital equivalent of owning an original, signed painting. Each non-fungible token (NFT) is unique, possessing its own intrinsic value and individual significance. They introduce the notion of rarity and ownership into the digital realm, enabling the purchase, sale, and exchange of digital assets in a manner akin to tangible art pieces.


What Uniform Commercial Code Amendment Act of 2023 will do?


B25-0005 seeks to establish a new framework for digital asset transactions, introducing regulations governing the buying, selling, or transfer of these digital items within the city. Many existing laws in DC were not designed with digital assets in mind, prompting the need for updates to ensure relevance in today's digital transactions landscape. For example, laws concerning sales, leases, and secured transactions are being revised to accommodate the digital nature of these assets.


One of the most crucial aspects of this bill is how it clarifies the treatment of digital assets under DC law. B25-0005 explains how individuals can prove ownership of a digital asset and how these assets can be used as security. It also ensures that transactions made before these new laws remain valid. If someone purchased a digital asset under the old rules, their purchase would still be legally recognized by DC. Furthermore, there are specific rules about transitioning from the old system to the new one to ensure everything is clear and legal when the new laws are used.


Of course, as the Uniform Commercial Code Amendment Act of 2023's name would indicate, amendments are made to various articles of the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) that deal with various types of transactions and legal agreements. A major part of the bill is about "Controllable Electronic Records," which sets out how digital assets are controlled, transferred, and recognized legally.


This past Tuesday, B25-0005 had its final reading before the Council, where it passed unanimously. It now heads to the Mayor's office for her review and approval before it heads to the U.S. Congress for its review before it becomes law.

Vote report


B25-0005 - Uniform Commercial Code Amendment Act of 2024

Action Date

Feb 06, 2024

Action Type

Final Reading, CC

Vote Type

Roll Call

Vote Result

Approved

Vote Detail

Anita Bonds

Yes

Brianne K. Nadeau

Yes

Brooke Pinto

Yes

Charles Allen

Yes

Christina Henderson

Yes

Janeese Lewis George

Yes

Kenyan R. McDuffie

Yes

Matthew Frumin

Yes

Phil Mendelson

Yes

Robert C. White, Jr.

Yes

Trayon White, Sr.

Yes

Vincent C. Gray

Yes

Zachary Parker

Yes



Vote Summary

Yes

13

View the full DC Council vote here.




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