Legal recreational marijuana sales could soon become a reality in Washington, DC, almost seven years after a comfortable majority of voters approved a measure to legalize cannabis possession and cultivation for personal use.

Initiative 71 didn’t allow for legal adult-use cannabis sales though, and every year since 2014 the US Congress – which has oversight over the city’s laws – has used budget legislation to prevent the city council from legalizing and regulating marijuana sales.

This year, however, the Senate has decided to remove the attachment to its appropriations bill – known as the Harris rider – that precludes legal marijuana sales in Washington, DC.

“The Harris rider has been a real disservice to the District,” said DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson to the Washington Post. “What Congress has done is create a wild wild west where there is no ability to have meaningful, constructive regulation.”

The Senate Appropriations Committee’s decision to omit the Harris rider follows the House of Representatives opting to do the same with its own appropriations’ legislation earlier this year. President Joe Biden, however, decided to retain the measure in his administration’s budget proposal.

Nonetheless, if the Harris rider doesn’t make its way back onto the final version of congress’s appropriations bill, then city lawmakers would be able to pursue the legalization and regulation of adult-use cannabis sales in the jurisdiction.

Washington, DC Mayor Muriel E. Bowser, for one, has been an outspoken advocate for legal cannabis sales in the city and has introduced legislation to this effect, as well as another measure to expand access to medical marijuana.

In a statement, the mayor’s office urged Congress to stick to its decision to remove the Harris rider in this and all future appropriations bills.

“The Senate appropriations bill is a critical step in recognizing that in a democracy, D.C. residents should be governed by D.C. values,” the statement reads, “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.”

Another bill to legalize cannabis sales in DC was recently introduced by Mendelson, containing provisions that would prioritize local businesses over multi-state corporations and allocate significant portions of marijuana tax revenues to communities most harmed by cannabis prohibition.

“If the rider does not reappear, then we will move quickly on this legislation,” Mendelson said.

Adam Eidinger, an organizer with DC Marijuana Justice, welcomed the Senate’s move and stressed its importance to implementing much-needed criminal justice reform.

“We’re going to stop putting people behind bars. That’s what this is really about,” he said. “We’re still arresting people selling cannabis in this town.”

About the Author: Matt Brooks

Matt is a journalist from San Francisco who has specialized in marijuana policy for more than six years.

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