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DC is a step closer to legalizing marijuana sales. Here's what that means

The 'Harris Rider', which has long been a roadblock to legal recreational cannabis sales in D.C., is currently not included in this year's appropriations bill.

WASHINGTON — D.C. could be one step closer to being able to legalize marijuana sales within its borders.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Senator Patrick Leahy released the remaining appropriation bills for the public viewing Monday. The legislation did not include the so-called "Harris Rider".

In 2014, Maryland Congressman Andy Harry added that provision to the federal appropriations bill, effectively blocking D.C. from regulating and taxing recreational marijuana. At the time, Harris said he wanted to protect teens from drug use.

The rider had routinely been included in the appropriations proposals ever since.

The provision's removal from the latest appropriations bill has excited marijuana advocates like Adam Eidinger.

"We're really excited that the Harris Rider is being removed because DC will finally be able to write its own laws again," he said.

In 2014, Eidinger crafted Initiative 71 in D.C., which made it legal for District residents to grow and possess limited amounts of marijuana on private property. However, locals were still prohibited from selling the substance.

"Residents have been screaming we want legal businesses," he said. "We don't want this to be sort of 'quasi-legal.'"

READ: The Comprehensive Cannabis Legalization and Regulation Act of 2021

This all comes as the D.C. Council prepares to tackle legislation proposed by Council Chairman Phil Mendelson that would legalize and regulate the cultivation, production, and sale of recreational cannabis in the District. The bill is named the Comprehensive Cannabis Legalization and Regulation Act of 2021.

The D.C. Council plans to hold a hearing on the proposal on Nov. 21.

Eidinger said he supports the legislation but would like it to include lower licensing fees so the policy could be more equitable. 

"We're really thrilled at DCMJ about the bill that's before the council, but marijuana activists have been saying for a long time we need to have a law that works for everybody," he said.

Both Mendelson and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser's office welcomed news of the Harris Rider's removal from the appropriations bill too.

The office of Mayor Muriel Bowser released a statement below:

"The Senate appropriations bill is a critical step in recognizing that in a democracy, DC residents should be governed by DC values. As we continue on the path to DC 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 DC voters. We urge Congress to pass a final spending bill that similarly removes all anti-Home Rule riders, allowing DC to spend our local funds as we see fit."

In a statement, Mendelson said it was a step in the right direction:

"This is a step in the right direction. We hope that, as the bill moves through the Senate, no rider language is inserted so we can honor the will of District voters and set up a safe, equitable recreational cannabis market."

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