Two weeks ago, the District of Columbia’s fight towards marijuana regulation turned a historic tide. For the first time, the D.C. Council held a public hearing on legislation to legalize and regulate the sale of adult use marijuana. It has been seven years since nearly 65 percent of Washingtonians voted in support of Initiative 71 (I-71), a campaign that led the nation in centering racial justice and equity as significant reasons to end marijuana criminalization. Under this Initiative, it is legal for adults 21 years of age and older to possess, grow, and share small amounts of marijuana. Despite widespread support for ending the local war on marijuana and the urgent calls to explore what equity and justice looks like post-legalization, the District has continually been blocked from taking any measures to move forward with regulating adult use marijuana.

This block is due to a congressional appropriations rider, which prohibits the District from using its local funds to tax or regulate adult use marijuana sales. Every year since I-71 was passed, Congress has included this rider, known as the Harris rider, which has halted the true public health and justice reform benefits promised by the campaign.

Over the past several years, I have been working diligently with dozens of national and local advocacy organizations to remove the rider. For the first time since I-71 passed, we have successfully gotten the rider removed from pending versions of the fiscal year (FY) 2022 D.C. Appropriations bill in the House and the Senate. With the DC Council’s hearing two weeks ago, I am hopeful that my efforts to remove the rider from the final FY2022 D.C. Appropriations bill will finally allow the D.C. Council to pass legislation that legalizes commercialization of adult use marijuana. 

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The District has seen far too many preventable public health and safety issues as a result of the lack of a regulated market. The hearing allowed D.C. councilmembers the opportunity to discuss equitable ways to approach commercialization in the District, giving particular attention to the communities of color and low-income individuals that are disproportionately affected by the war on drugs.

D.C. residents want, and deserve, to see the benefits of a regulated adult use marijuana market, such as the entry of entrepreneurs into the marijuana industry and District-wide job creation and economic development. The 18 states that have voted to commercialize adult use marijuana get to benefit from the revenue it creates. Last year, the House demonstrated its support of economic development and restorative justice through marijuana commercialization on the federal level by passing the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act. Now, we have the historic opportunity to follow the spirit of the D.C. Home Rule Act and allow the District to do the same. It is time that the District has full legislative ability to fulfill the will of its residents. 

Congresswoman Norton has been a long-term advocate of the appropriations rider removal that blocks the District of Columbia from spending local funds to regulate marijuana.