Although cannabis has been legal for several months in the District of Columbia, it could be a couple more years before the city is allowed to approve retail sales. House Republicans pushed through a proposed amendment, which seeks to ban the sale of recreational marijuana in the District until 2017.
The language of the proposal specifies that, “none of the funds contained in this Act may be used to enact any law, rule, or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce penalties associated with the possession, use, or distribution of any schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act.”
If this sounds familiar, it’s because it mimics a rider introduced last year by Representative Andy Harris, which was attached to a federal spending bill and used to prevent the DC Council from spending money to “enact” legislation that could have allowed them to legalize retail sales in 2015. Although both local officials and national cannabis advocacy groups anticipated federal lawmakers would move to sabotage plans to sell cannabis in the nation’s capital, they were shocked to learn that the new rider didn’t come with more controls.
“I’m pleasantly surprised that the rider that they did include was not more restrictive,” Dan Riffle, director of Federal Policies at the Marijuana Policy Project, told The Washington Times. “I fully expected them to include tougher language explicitly naming the law in the language of the rider.”
Earlier last year, voters approved Initiative 71, which legalized the possession, cultivation and transfer of up to one ounce of marijuana in the District. The idea of legal weed, however, seemed to invoke a level of panic in federal lawmakers, namely Maryland Rep. Harris, provoking him to draft a congressional rider that ultimately put a stop to plans for a retail cannabis market in the back yard of the White House.
However, drug policy experts seem to think there’s a good chance that the latest proposal will not be wholeheartedly supported, especially if there is a motion to remove marijuana from the rider.
“If there’s a floor vote on an amendment to strip this language from the bill I think we have a really good shot of assembling a bipartisan majority of lawmakers who will stand up for letting DC enact its own marijuana policies without interference,” said Tom Angell with the Marijuana Policy Project.
DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton told reporters this week that the DC Council would fight the inclusion of the marijuana rider.
What do you think about this proposal? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Photo by Carol M. Highsmith