Congress Denies Washington, DC, Adult-Use Marijuana Sales Again

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The Harris Rider was among many additions to the government omnibus spending bill passed by Congress on Mar. 10, 2022. Spearheaded by Representative Andy Harris (R-MD), the rider overrides DC voters and disallows marijuana sales in the District as it has done since 2015. [1] [2] [3]

DC voters overwhelmingly passed (70%) marijuana legalization in 2014. The Home Rule Act of 1973 says Congress can deny any law DC residents pass, which allows for the Harris Rider, which in turn makes marijuana sales illegal. The Home Rule Act is one major reason many DC residents and others have campaigned for DC statehood. [1] [2] [3]

DC residents may legally possess, grow, and consume their own marijuana. Meanwhile, many marijuana businesses have operated in a shadowy loophole: “gifting” customers the drug while charging them for another product or service. Proponents of legal sales argue this legal gray area marijuana market burdens law enforcement officers who could be focusing on public safety instead. [1] [2] [3]

Maryland, a neighbor to DC, is on the cusp of legalizing adult-use marijuana with a constitutional amendment on the ballot in November and companion legislation. About 60% of Maryland voters polled supported legalization in Oct. 2021. [4] [5]

Legal recreational marijuana is increasingly popular. As of Mar. 14, 2022, 18 states and DC have legalized recreational marijuana. All but two (Colorado and Washington state) did so in 2014 or later, like DC, with five states making the drug legal in 2021 alone. Additionally, 37 states and DC have legalized medical marijuana, making the drug completely illegal in only 13 states.

Any state legalization contradicts federal law that states marijuana is a Schedule 1 drug along with heroin. [6]

Discussion Questions

1. Should recreational/adult-use marijuana be legal? Why or why not?

2. Should the federal government allow states to continue legalizing marijuana state-by-state? Or should the federal government legalize marijuana nationwide? Consider both medical and adult-use marijuana. Explain your answer(s).

3. Consider the Home Rule Act. Should DC voters and legislators have the last say in DC laws rather than the US Congress? Explain your answer.

4. Should DC be granted statehood? Why or why not?

Sources

1. Karl Evers-Hillstrom and Aris Folley, “Congress Overrides DC Voters, Keeps Sales of Marijuana Illegal in District,” thehill.com, Mar. 11, 2022  

2. Martin Austermuhle, “Congress Maintains Ban on D.C. Legalizing Sales of Recreational Marijuana,” npr.org, Mar. 10, 2022

3. Meagan Flynn, “Congress Keeps Ban on Legal D.C. Marijuana Sales in Budget, despite Democratic Control,” washingtonpost.com, Mar. 9, 2022

4. Richard B. Karel, “Opinion: Maryland’s Marijuana Legalization Plan Is Thoughtful and Likely to Succeed,” washingtonpost.com, Feb. 28, 2022 

5. Marijuana Policy Project, “House of Delegates Approves Bills to Refer Legalization to Voters in November!,” mpp.org, Mar. 1, 2022

6. US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), “Drug Scheduling,” dea.gov (accessed Mar. 14, 2022)