Once Again, Congress Tries To Stop D.C. From Legalizing Weed

A federal spending bill circulated Wednesday morning contains a clause that would ban D.C. from regulating a recreational cannabis market and collecting taxes from it, attempting to foil – yet another time – the District’s desire to legalize weed.

The clause, known as the Harris Rider after Rep. Andy Harris (R-Maryland) first introduced it in 2015, has for years stymied the city’s effort to open a recreational cannabis market. Voters in the city overwhelmingly approved a ballot initiative in 2014 to legalize the drug. (Maryland, meanwhile, is weighing four different measures to create a recreational cannabis market.)

Local and national Democrats hoped that the party’s majority in Congress would prevent the Harris Rider’s inclusion in future budgets. The issue has become a flashpoint for the District’s historically significant push for statehood; it is undemocratic, its mayor and Council members argue, for citizens’ votes to be overruled by members of Congress they did not elect.

It’s also an increasingly untenable (and comical) position: D.C. has developed a robust market of cannabis vendors and weed delivery businesses who “gift” their product to customers. The Harris rider doesn’t ban that market, but it does prevent the D.C. government from regulating it in any way.

D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said he was “incensed” by the news, adding that Congress “continues to thwart the overwhelming majority of District voters who support recreational cannabis legalization and regulation.” A vocal critic of the District’s gifting market, Mendelson blamed the Harris Rider on Wednesday for the expansion of what he calls D.C.’s “wild west”: the “illegal, so-called pop-ups where marijuana is sold illegally.”

Criminal justice and drug policy advocates also weighed in, condemning Congressional leaders for their failure to empower D.C. to set policy for itself.

This story has been updated to include a statement from Phil Mendelson.

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