Workers in the nation’s capital won’t have to worry about getting canned over cannabis, under a bill passed by the Washington, D.C. city council on Tuesday.
The measure, known as the “Cannabis Employment Protections Amendment Act of 2022,” was approved unanimously by the governing body.
It now awaits the signature of Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser. According to National Public Radio, if Bowser were to sign it, “the bill will become law after a 60-day congressional review and the bill’s publication in the District of Columbia Register.”
The bill does not apply to every employee working in D.C. As the Washington Post noted, the law would “[make] exceptions, however, for workers in ‘safety-sensitive jobs,’ including operators of heavy machinery, construction workers, police and security guards who carry weapons and medical professionals.” And, of course, the law would not protect the scores of federal employees from facing discipline if they tested positive for cannabis.
The federal government, however, continues to exert its authority over Washington, D.C.’s cannabis laws.
Voters in D.C. approved a measure legalizing pot use for adults back in 2014, but recreational cannabis sales are still illegal.
That’s because Congress, which has authority over D.C.’s laws, has barred the commercialization of weed in the city in every appropriations bill since the legalization measure passed eight years ago.
There was hope last year that Congress may finally end the restriction, after a draft bill introduced in the Senate last October did not include the provision.
Bowser’s camp applauded that at the time.
“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. “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.”
Republicans, however, were not pleased.
“This one-sided process has resulted in bills that spend in excess of the Democrats’ own budget resolution and fail to give equal consideration to our nation’s defense. Their bills are filled with poison pills and problematic authorizing provisions, and they remove important legacy riders on topics like terrorism, abortion, and immigration that for years have enjoyed broad support on both sides of the aisle,” Senate Appropriations Committee Vice Chairman Richard Shelby said at the time.
By March, Shelby and the Republicans won out, as the final version of the appropriations bill maintained the ban.
Groups such as the Drug Policy Alliance and the American Civil Liberties Union lamented the development, saying that Washington, 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 March.
Despite the ban, some retailers in Washington, D.C. have still managed to sell pot, often through the practice of “gifting,” through which a business sells a product (often a t-shirt or hat) and then provides the customer with a “gift” of weed.
In April, the D.C. City Council rejected a proposal to crack down on those retailers.