D.C. City Councilperson Christina Henderson’s Vision for Cannabis

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This article was originally published in The Outlaw Report in February. It is being republished this week following Christina Henderson’s election victory.

After two terms as At-Large Councilmember, David Grosso is not running for reelection, but has instead chosen to endorse one of his former staff members: Christina Henderson. This Brooklyn-born candidate has a weighty past in the District, having influenced legislation on a variety of issues, ranging from D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) facilities to reproductive health to medical cannabis.

Henderson is running as an independent for the At-Large Councilmember position, facing several challengers, which include former D.C. Office of Human Rights Director Mónica Palacio, real estate developer Marcus Goodwin, tenant rights attorney Will Merrifield, and State Board of Education Vice President Markus Batchelor. 

Henderson currently serves as a legislative assistant for New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, but when she first moved to Washington, D.C. in 2009, she worked for Sen. Kay Hagan as a legislative staffer. She later, in 2012, shifted her work to DCPS as a coordinator of special projects in the Office of Human Capital. 

Her dive into the D.C. Council began in 2013 as Legislative Director for Grosso. In her four years in the D.C. Council, Henderson quickly rose to become Grosso’s Deputy Chief of Staff and eventually Director of the Education Committee. 

In an interview with The Outlaw Report, Henderson spoke on her views surrounding D.C.’s current cannabis laws.

“We’ve made the adjustments and the reforms necessary to be on the right track to allow patients to get the care that they need, but then also to allow for business owners in this market to do well,” she said.

Henderson added that she thinks there are still “kinks” that need to be worked out, such as how D.C. should allow banks to support small, local businesses that focus on cannabis. The city should also consider the future of licensing businesses by making an effort to ensure that local residents, especially women and people of color, are able to compete against entrepreneurs from around the nation.

During her time on the D.C. Council, there were four major cannabis-related bills that she worked on. The first was the Marijuana Legalization and Regulation Act of 2013, which sought to create a tax-and-regulate system for cannabis. The Council ended up passing a separate bill to decriminalize cannabis in the District, though Congress ended up thwarting these efforts. Maryland Rep. Andy Harris introduced a rider in the federal omnibus spending bill that prohibited D.C. from moving forward to taxing or regulating recreational marijuana.

“I think it is completely unfortunate and ridiculous that the Congress is continuing to block D.C. from being able to move forward with a tax-and-regulate system,” Henderson said in an interview with The Outlaw Report. “That has created a patchwork system that we are currently dealing with where we still have not completely put the underground market out of business, which I think is still leading to the detainment and arrest of individuals.”

Henderson further described the Harris Rider as “ridiculous,” saying that it’s “unfair” for Congress to “literally hold the District of Columbia hostage.”

“I’m not naive to think that a tax-and-regulate system is going to completely get rid of an underground—or as you say grey market—but I do feel it would help ensure that people know what the rules are,” Henderson said. “I also think that a tax-and-regulate market where there is healthy competition would bring the prices in a legal market down to the point where the grey market is no longer a viable option.”

An additional bill that Henderson has influenced was the Record Sealing for Decriminalized and Legalized Offenses Act of 2014, which became law in March 2015. The legislation allowed individuals to file a motion to seal the records of offenses that are decriminalized or legalized after the date of the arrest, charge, or conviction. It was introduced as a companion to the tax-and-regulate legislation under the belief that people who were disproportionately impacted by former regulations should be able to go back to living their lives without consequence or stigma. 

Henderson also worked on the Medical Marijuana Plant Cultivation Amendment Act of 2014, which was combined with the Medical Marijuana Expansion Amendment Act of 2014. These bills amended the Legalization of Marijuana for Medical Treatment Initiative of 1999 and became law in March 2015. The former bill effectively increased the number of plants that medical cannabis cultivation centers could possess, while the latter bill amended the definition of what medical conditions could qualify a physician to allow a patient to benefit from a medical cannabis treatment.

Around the time that these bills were passed, in June 2014, there were only 389 patients registered in the medical marijuana program and 114 physicians with recommendation forms. As of December 2014, there were 1,877 patients registered and 191 physicians with recommendation forms.

At this point, Henderson says that she is pleased to see how the D.C. Council is showing more support for taxing and regulating cannabis, as seen from Mayor Muriel Bowser introducing her own bill to make it happen.

“When I first started working on marijuana policy issues in 2013 in D.C., we got a lot of pushback, especially from people like the Mayor,” said Henderson, who added that it just goes to show how public opinion can change on an issue—and change fast.

Photo provided courtesy of Christina Henderson

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