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Dems in Congress Opt to Keep Ban on Washington, D.C. Cannabis Sales |

The Washington, D.C. prohibition against cannabis sales was maintained by the Democrats in Congress this week, despite earlier suggestions that they would lift it and allow legal sale. 

A drafted spending bill that was unveiled on Wednesday by House Appropriations Committee Chair Rosa DeLauro, a Democrat from Connecticut, still included the so-called “Harris Rider,” which has precluded the District of Columbia from commercializing weed, despite the fact that D.C. voters legalized recreational pot use back in 2014. This issue also includes the D.C. bid to become a state. 

This rider was named for Andy Harris (Republican Congressman of Maryland), and has been part of each appropriations bill ever since that initiative’s legalization. (All laws within the District of Columbia are overseen by Congress.

So while D.C. adults aged 21 and older have been able to legally possess cannabis for the last eight years, the dream of a regulated market in the nation’s capital has not been fully realized for cannabis users.

Politico explained that “D.C. residents are allowed to consume, grow and ‘gift’ cannabis products.” (“Gifting,” wherein a business sells other items and then “gifts,” the customer cannabis has been a popular work-around for pot sellers in jurisdictions where sales are still illegal.)

For cannabis advocates who have been aiming for elimination of Harris Rider policy, this development will come as a huge disappointment. 

As Politico noted, the inclusion of the rider “came as a surprise to some advocates because it was not included in funding packages put forth by the House and Senate,”  although “President Joe Biden’s proposed budget did include the controversial provision.”

The prospects of cannabis reform were looking bright a year ago when Democrats had taken back Congress control and Biden was elected president. However, that hasn’t necessarily proven to be the case today. 

Senate Democrats issued an October edition of their appropriations bill, that notably didn’t include Harris Rider.

Muriel Bowser, D.C. Mayor, applauded this omission.

“The Senate appropriations bill is a critical step in recognizing that in a democracy, D.C. residents should be governed by D.C. values,” Bowser’s office said in a statement at the time. 

“As we continue on the path to D.C. statehood, I want to thank Senate Appropriations Committee Chair, Senator Patrick Leahy, our good friend and Subcommittee Chair, Senator Chris Van Hollen, and, of course, our champion on the Hill, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, for recognizing and advancing the will of D.C. voters. We urge Congress to pass a final spending bill that similarly removes all anti-Home Rule riders, allowing D.C. to spend our local funds as we see fit.”

More than 50 cannabis and civil rights advocacy organizations urged Congress last week to repeal the Harris Rider.

In a letter sent to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, among others, groups like the Drug Policy Alliance and the American Civil Liberties Union noted that, because of its lack of statehood, D.C. “remains the only jurisdiction in the country that cannot regulate marijuana sales or fruitfully tap into the public health and safety benefits of legalization.”

“In one hand, Congress continues to make strides in advancing federal marijuana reform grounded in racial justice, while simultaneously being responsible for prohibiting the very jurisdiction that led the country in legalizing marijuana through this lens from being able to regulate it. This conflict and contradiction must end now,” Queen Adesuyi, Senior National Policy Manager for the Drug Policy Alliance, said in a statement.