Mar 9, 2022 - News

D.C. would remain barred from legalizing marijuana sales under federal budget

An activist for marijuana legalization holds up flag of weed leaves
Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Washington, D.C. would remain barred from legalizing the sale of marijuana under a congressional spending plan released Wednesday.

Why it matters: The news is a blow to city leaders who hoped a Democratic majority on Capitol Hill would remove a federal budget rule that has prevented the city from legalizing the sale of recreational cannabis since 2015.

Flashback: District voters approved a ballot measure to legalize marijuana use in late 2014, but local leaders have been unable to set up a tax and sale industry due to a federal budget rider introduced by Republican Rep. Andy Harris of Maryland.

  • Efforts to remove the rider have so far failed. The District has limited home rule which allows for Congress to interfere in its local laws.

What they're saying: "Our inability to regulate the sale and distribution of cannabis in the District encourages the existence and expansion of illegal, so-called pop-ups where marijuana is sold illegally," Council Chair Phil Mendelson said in a statement.

  • D.C.'s inability to regulate marijuana sales has long been part of the rallying cry of D.C. statehood activists. Josh Burch, who founded Neighbors United for D.C. Statehood, wrote in an email to Axios that supporters of D.C. statehood on Capitol Hill are "unwilling to fight" for local autonomy.
  • "We will continue to focus on making D.C. the 51st state because only statehood frees us from the malice of our opponents and weaknesses of our friends," he wrote.

The other side: Operators of marijuana pop-up shops, which usually sell goods such as art or juice and "gift" marijuana to patrons for free, defend their industry and believe it can serve as a foundation for a future legal pot sales market in the nation's capital.

Editor's note: This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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