Recreational Cannabis Law in Washington, D.C. May Soon Be Operational

Although voters passed cannabis legalization in Washington, D.C. back in 2014, the Harris Rider has prevented the law from being implemented.

Congress may be on the verge of removing a crucial impediment that has kept Washington, D.C. from implementing the recreational marijuana law it passed years ago.

The appropriations bill introduced by Democrats in the United States Senate on Monday evening did not contain the so-called “Harris Rider” that has prevented the District of Columbia from enjoying legal weed, despite voters there passing a legalization proposal all the way back in 2014.

Written by Republican Congressman Andy Harris of Maryland, “the budget rider written by Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) has prevented D.C. from commercializing the drug and has been added into every appropriations bill since [it was passed by D.C. voters],” the Washington Post explained, noting that Congress “has oversight over all D.C. laws.” 

The appropriations bills, unveiled by Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, were greeted warmly by legalization advocates. 

Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser likewise approved of the move.

“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 quoted by NBC Washington. “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.”

Pro-marijuana activist Adam Eidinger told the station that it has “been a seven-year struggle to get to this point, to remove this rider, and Democrats have been helpful.”

“We have to move forward, and the Congress helped us last night—actually did something for D.C. last night,” Eidinger said.

Republicans, however, were less than enthused. In a statement, Senate Appropriations Committee Vice Chairman Richard Shelby cited the removal of the rider as a source of the GOP’s opposition.

“Chairman Leahy’s decision to unilaterally unveil partisan spending bills is a significant step in the wrong direction. 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,” Shelby said.

Leahy said that the robust legislative package makes “important investments in our nation’s infrastructure, our environment, and the middle class, including historic increases to promote affordable housing, educate our nation’s children, combat climate change, and improve healthcare.” 

The presence of the Harris Rider has “created a pot paradox in which it’s fine to possess it but not to buy it or sell it—in turn allowing gray-market sellers to continue proliferating while preventing D.C. from benefiting from the tax revenue boost that comes with regulating recreational sales,” the Washington Post said.

The move by Leahy is the latest sign that Democrats on Capitol Hill are ready to embrace legalization. 

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said earlier this year that Democrats are eager to pursue such legislation, and he pointed to the changing attitudes toward pot as a factor.

“In 2018, I was the first member of the Democratic leadership to come out in support of ending the federal prohibition. I’m sure you ask, “Well what changed?” Well, my thinking evolved. When a few of the early states—Oregon and Colorado—wanted to legalize, all the opponents talked about the parade of horribles: Crime would go up. Drug use would go up. Everything bad would happen,” Schumer told Politico. “The legalization of states worked out remarkably well. They were a great success. The parade of horribles never came about, and people got more freedom. And people in those states seem very happy.”

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