Dozens of civil rights and cannabis advocacy groups are calling on Congress to remove the impediment that has prevented Washington, D.C. from launching adult-use cannabis sales.
In a letter to congressional leaders on Friday, more than 50 groups – including the Drug Policy Alliance, American Civil Liberties Union and NORML – called for an end to the so-called “Harris rider,” which has kept D.C. from opening its recreational cannabis market.
Voters in the District of Columbia passed a measure to legalize marijuana back in 2014, and the new law took effect the following year. But Congress oversees all laws inside the district, and a budget rider authored by Rep. Andy Harris, a Republican from Maryland, has been a part of every appropriations bill passed since the legalization measure passed.
Harris’ rider specifically precludes the District of Columbia from commercializing cannabis.
In the fall, Democrats in Congress indicated a willingness to remove the provision when they introduced an appropriations bill in October that did not include the Harris rider.
The letter on Friday applauded the removal of the rider in the proposed bill, and it encouraged Congress to see it through.
“It is imperative to both public health, public safety, and for Congress’ support of the District’s right to home rule that the removal of the Harris rider is maintained,” the groups said in the letter. “The District of Columbia is one of 19 jurisdictions that has allowed for access to marijuana for adult use. Yet, because the District is not a state, it is the only jurisdiction that cannot regulate marijuana sales. Congress and the Department of Justice have allowed other states like Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, and California, among others, to exercise their sovereign right to set policy and function as laboratories of democracy; the District of Columbia should be allowed to use local taxpayers’ funds to support local needs as well.”
The letter, which was sent to the chairs and ranking members of the Senate and House Appropriations Committees as well as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, noted that “the District of Columbia remains the only jurisdiction in the country that cannot regulate marijuana sales or fruitfully tap into the public health and safety benefits of legalization.”
Ensuring Safe Cannabis Access in Washington D.C.
Not allowing recreational cannabis in Washington, D.C. has led to a public safety issue in terms of cannabis access.
“Without the ability to regulate marijuana sales, the grey market for marijuana flourishes despite the need and want of the District leadership and residents alike to establish a regulatory model. Such a model would free up law enforcement resources to focus on threats to public safety,” the groups said in the letter.
The letter continues, “It would also allow legitimate entrepreneurs to start businesses, create jobs and spur economic development in the District. It is of utmost importance that the District of Columbia be granted the same capacity as states around the nation that have voted to regulate adult use of marijuana and deliver on the promises of [the ballot initiative passed in 2014].”
When Democrats unveiled a Harris rider-less appropriations bill in October, the development was met with applause by Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser.
“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.”