Washington, D.C. May Never See Retail Pot Sales

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There was a great deal of hope that congressional forces would loosen their grip on the District of Columbia in the latest spending bill—allowing the local government to move ahead with plans to establish a taxed and regulated cannabis trade—but it appears that federal lawmakers are still hell bent on preventing marijuana from ever being sold in the nation’s capital.

Although it is perfectly legal in the District to cultivate, possess and transfer small amounts of marijuana, an amendment that has been attached to federal spending bills for the past few years has prevented the D.C. Council from so much as even formulating a plan to establish a citywide cannabis trade. The rider, which was brought to the table by Representative Andy Harris of Maryland, has simply prohibited District leaders from spending any federal funds to help further the legalization of marijuana.

In the government’s latest $1 trillion budget plan, which passed last week, Congress took the Harris Amendment to the next level by ensuring the District would not have the ability to dip into local funds to “enact” any legislation pertaining to legal weed.

“No funds available for obligation or expenditure by the District of Columbia government under any authority may be used to enact any law, rule, or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce penalties associated with the possession, use, or distribution of any schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 801 et seq.) or any tetrahydrocannabinols derivative for recreational purposes,” the amendment reads.

There has been some debate over the past couple of years about whether District lawmakers might be able to approve a retail pot market by simply using local money. But regardless of how much some of the more ambitious city council members pushed for this to happen, the higher ups, specifically Mayor Muriel Bowser, have had some reservations about challenging the thugs sitting on Capitol Hill.

Last year, Judge Brian Holeman ruled in favor of upholding the Local Budget Autonomy Act, which was intended to provide the District with more power over local funds. Some advocates believed the ruling would finally set the stage for the launching of a retail marijuana trade without enduring further setbacks by Congress.

“This means that the council can move forward to determine how to tax and regulate marijuana and pass a law to do so this fall,” the Marijuana Policy Project wrote in a statement.

But D.C.’s local government dragged its feet—giving Congress plenty of time to formulate a retaliatory move.

“The key difference is that while the former version only barred the District from spending money allocated in a given year’s specific funding bill on legalization, the new version prevents the spending of any money to regulate marijuana,” wrote Tom Angell, chairman of the national pot advocacy group the Marijuana Majority, in his analysis of the situation.

D.C. councilmember David Grosso has said in the past that, “the council would act expeditiously” on establishing retail pot sales once the Harris Rider was no longer an issue.

Unfortunately, with the passing of the latest amendment, it seems the District is now out of options.

While the restriction on D.C.’s ability to establish a retail cannabis market is only good until September, there is little doubt, at least at this juncture, that Congress will continue to stand by the Harris Rider—possibility making the District of Columbia the only legal marijuana jurisdiction in the United States that does not offer its residents legal access to the plant.

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