Cannabis Expungement Law Takes Effect in D.C.

The measure that was approved by the Council of the District of Columbia late last year mandates an “automatic sealing for non-dangerous, non-convictions as well as shorten the waiting periods before a person is eligible to seal their record,” and “would also expand the eligibility of who can seal their record.” The bill was signed by Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser in January, but its enactment was delayed due to an arcane part of lawmaking in our nation’s capital. 

Laws in D.C. are subject to congressional oversight and approval––a stipulation that has prevented the district from implementing legal marijuana sales, despite the fact that voters there legalized cannabis back in 2014.

After Bowser signed the cannabis expungement measure in January, the bill was transmitted to Congress. As NORML explained, all “legislation must undergo a 30-day Congressional review prior to becoming law,” and absent a Congressional intervention, the bill will then become law.

That moment is now––or rather, on March 10, when the law officially took effect.

NORML has more on the new law:

“The Act provides for the automatic review and expungement of any convictions or citations specific to marijuana-related offenses that have subsequently been decriminalized or legalized in the District of Columbia, as well as any ‘records related only to simple possession for any quantity of marijuana in violation of D.C. Code § 48-904.01(d)(1) before February 15, 2015.’ It requires all cannabis-specific expungements to be processed by the courts by January 1, 2025.”

Paul Armentano, the deputy director of NORML, hailed the new law.

“Thousands of DC residents unduly carry the burden and stigma of a past conviction for behavior that District lawmakers, most Americans, and a growing number of states, no longer consider to be a crime,” Armenato said. “Our sense of justice and our principles of fairness demand that the courts move swiftly to right the past wrongs of cannabis prohibition and criminalization.”

In 2021, it appeared that legal cannabis sales might finally be coming to Washington, D.C.

That’s because Senate Democrats at the time introduced a draft of an appropriations bill that did not include the so-called “Harris Rider,” a budget rider named for Republican Congressman Andy Harris of Maryland that had appeared in every such bill since 2014.

The Harris Rider has precluded Washington, D.C. from engaging in legal commercial marijuana sales. 

At the time, Bowser celebrated the rider’s apparent exclusion from the proposed bill.

“The Senate appropriations bill is a critical step in recognizing that in a democracy, D.C. residents should be governed by D.C. values,” Bowser’s office said at the time. “As we continue on the path to D.C. statehood, I want to thank Senate Appropriations Committee Chair, Senator Patrick Leahy, our good friend and Subcommittee Chair, Senator Chris Van Hollen, and, of course, our champion on the Hill, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, for recognizing and advancing the will of D.C. voters. 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.”

Activist groups pressured Democrats in Congress to hold firm and ditch the Harris Rider.

“In one hand, Congress continues to make strides in advancing federal marijuana reform grounded in racial justice, while simultaneously being responsible for prohibiting the very jurisdiction that led the country in legalizing marijuana through this lens from being able to regulate it. This conflict and contradiction must end now,” Queen Adesuyi, Senior National Policy Manager for the Drug Policy Alliance, said in a statement last year.

But it was not to be.

The appropriations bill that ultimately emerged last year included the Harris Rider.

The post Cannabis Expungement Law Takes Effect in D.C. appeared first on High Times.

Dems in Congress Opt to Keep Ban on Washington, D.C. Cannabis Sales

Congressional Democrats decided this week to maintain a prohibition on cannabis sales in Washington, D.C. despite previous suggestions that they were prepared to lift the ban and begin allowing legal sales. 

A drafted spending bill that was unveiled on Wednesday by House Appropriations Committee Chair Rosa DeLauro, a Democrat from Connecticut, still included the so-called “Harris Rider,” which has precluded the District of Columbia from commercializing weed, despite the fact that D.C. voters legalized recreational pot use back in 2014. Tied up in this issue is the D.C. bid for statehood. 

Named for Republican Congressman Andy Harris of Maryland, the rider has been a fixture of every appropriations bill since the passage of that legalization initiative. (The U.S. Congress oversees all laws in the District of Columbia.)

So while D.C. adults aged 21 and older have been able to legally possess cannabis for the last eight years, the dream of a regulated market in the nation’s capital has not been fully realized for cannabis users.

Politico explained that “D.C. residents are allowed to consume, grow and ‘gift’ cannabis products.” (“Gifting,” wherein a business sells other items and then “gifts,” the customer cannabis has been a popular work-around for pot sellers in jurisdictions where sales are still illegal.)

The development will be seen as a major disappointment for cannabis advocates, who have long targeted the elimination of the Harris Rider as a policy objective. 

As Politico noted, the inclusion of the rider “came as a surprise to some advocates because it was not included in funding packages put forth by the House and Senate,”  although “President Joe Biden’s proposed budget did include the controversial provision.”

A year ago, with Democrats officially taking back control of Congress and Biden sworn in as president, the outlook for cannabis reform looked bright. However, that hasn’t necessarily proven to be the case today. 

Senate Democrats released a version of their appropriations bill in October, which notably did not include the Harris Rider.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser applauded the omission.

“The Senate appropriations bill is a critical step in recognizing that in a democracy, D.C. residents should be governed by D.C. values,” Bowser’s office said in a statement at the time. 

“As we continue on the path to D.C. statehood, I want to thank Senate Appropriations Committee Chair, Senator Patrick Leahy, our good friend and Subcommittee Chair, Senator Chris Van Hollen, and, of course, our champion on the Hill, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, for recognizing and advancing the will of D.C. voters. 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.”

Last week, more than 50 civil rights and cannabis advocacy groups urged Congress to remove the Harris Rider.

In a letter sent to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, among others, groups like the Drug Policy Alliance and the American Civil Liberties Union noted that, because of its lack of statehood, D.C. “remains the only jurisdiction in the country that cannot regulate marijuana sales or fruitfully tap into the public health and safety benefits of legalization.”

“In one hand, Congress continues to make strides in advancing federal marijuana reform grounded in racial justice, while simultaneously being responsible for prohibiting the very jurisdiction that led the country in legalizing marijuana through this lens from being able to regulate it. This conflict and contradiction must end now,” Queen Adesuyi, Senior National Policy Manager for the Drug Policy Alliance, said in a statement.

The post Dems in Congress Opt to Keep Ban on Washington, D.C. Cannabis Sales appeared first on High Times.

Recreational Cannabis Law in Washington, D.C. May Soon Be Operational

Congress may be on the verge of removing a crucial impediment that has kept Washington, D.C. from implementing the recreational marijuana law it passed years ago.

The appropriations bill introduced by Democrats in the United States Senate on Monday evening did not contain the so-called “Harris Rider” that has prevented the District of Columbia from enjoying legal weed, despite voters there passing a legalization proposal all the way back in 2014.

Written by Republican Congressman Andy Harris of Maryland, “the budget rider written by Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) has prevented D.C. from commercializing the drug and has been added into every appropriations bill since [it was passed by D.C. voters],” the Washington Post explained, noting that Congress “has oversight over all D.C. laws.” 

The appropriations bills, unveiled by Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, were greeted warmly by legalization advocates. 

Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser likewise approved of the move.

“The Senate appropriations bill is a critical step in recognizing that in a democracy, D.C. residents should be governed by D.C. values,” Bowser’s office said in a statement, as quoted by NBC Washington. “As we continue on the path to D.C. statehood, I want to thank Senate Appropriations Committee Chair, Senator Patrick Leahy, our good friend and Subcommittee Chair, Senator Chris Van Hollen, and, of course, our champion on the Hill, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, for recognizing and advancing the will of D.C. voters. 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.”

Pro-marijuana activist Adam Eidinger told the station that it has “been a seven-year struggle to get to this point, to remove this rider, and Democrats have been helpful.”

“We have to move forward, and the Congress helped us last night—actually did something for D.C. last night,” Eidinger said.

Republicans, however, were less than enthused. In a statement, Senate Appropriations Committee Vice Chairman Richard Shelby cited the removal of the rider as a source of the GOP’s opposition.

“Chairman Leahy’s decision to unilaterally unveil partisan spending bills is a significant step in the wrong direction. This one-sided process has resulted in bills that spend in excess of the Democrats’ own budget resolution and fail to give equal consideration to our nation’s defense. Their bills are filled with poison pills and problematic authorizing provisions, and they remove important legacy riders on topics like terrorism, abortion, and immigration that for years have enjoyed broad support on both sides of the aisle,” Shelby said.

Leahy said that the robust legislative package makes “important investments in our nation’s infrastructure, our environment, and the middle class, including historic increases to promote affordable housing, educate our nation’s children, combat climate change, and improve healthcare.” 

The presence of the Harris Rider has “created a pot paradox in which it’s fine to possess it but not to buy it or sell it—in turn allowing gray-market sellers to continue proliferating while preventing D.C. from benefiting from the tax revenue boost that comes with regulating recreational sales,” the Washington Post said.

The move by Leahy is the latest sign that Democrats on Capitol Hill are ready to embrace legalization. 

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said earlier this year that Democrats are eager to pursue such legislation, and he pointed to the changing attitudes toward pot as a factor.

“In 2018, I was the first member of the Democratic leadership to come out in support of ending the federal prohibition. I’m sure you ask, “Well what changed?” Well, my thinking evolved. When a few of the early states—Oregon and Colorado—wanted to legalize, all the opponents talked about the parade of horribles: Crime would go up. Drug use would go up. Everything bad would happen,” Schumer told Politico. “The legalization of states worked out remarkably well. They were a great success. The parade of horribles never came about, and people got more freedom. And people in those states seem very happy.”

The post Recreational Cannabis Law in Washington, D.C. May Soon Be Operational appeared first on High Times.