Dear Members of Congress,
On behalf of the undersigned criminal justice reform, liberty, and drug policy organizations, we write to urge you to remove the Congressional budget rider that has prohibited the District of Columbia from establishing a regulatory framework for the sale and taxation of marijuana. The District of Columbia is one of seventeen jurisdictions that has voted to legalize marijuana for adult use. Yet, because the District is not a State, it is the only jurisdiction that cannot regulate marijuana sales. Congress and the Department of Justice have allowed other states like Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, and California, among others, to exercise their sovereign right to set policy and function as laboratories of democracy; the District of Columbia should be allowed to use local taxpayers’ funds to support local needs as well.
Residents of the District of Columbia voted to legalize marijuana for adult use in 2014 with nearly 65% voter support. However, every year since then, Congress has included an appropriations rider to prohibit D.C. from using funds to create a regulatory system for marijuana. FY2015, FY2016, FY 2017, FY2018, and FY2019 FSGG Appropriation Acts, as well as the FY2020 and FY2021 Senate FSGG bills all included language that maintain this prohibition. It is critical that Congress support D.C.’s right to home rule and the ability to spend local tax dollars as the District deems fit, especially in regard to the regulation and taxation of marijuana. We are requesting that Congress amend the current rider (section 809(b) of Title VIII) by striking language that limits D.C.’s local authority on this matter.
Current law has interfered with the District’s efforts to regulate marijuana, which has impacted public safety. Indeed, Delroy Burton, the former chairman of the D.C. Fraternal Order of Police, said a regulated market would have “pulled the teeth out of the illegal drug trade” eventually wiping out the violence associated with it. Without the ability to regulate marijuana sales, the grey market for marijuana flourishes despite the need and want of the District leadership and residents alike to establish a regulatory model. Such a model would free up law enforcement resources to focus on reducing violent crime. It would also allow legitimate entrepreneurs to start businesses, create jobs and spur economic development in the District.
There has been tremendous progress regarding marijuana reform on both the federal and state level. Both in Congress and nationally, the public conversation has shifted from “should we legalize marijuana?” to “how should we legalize marijuana?” From 2000 to 2019, the share of Americans saying marijuana should be legal more than doubled. A November 2020 Gallup poll reports that 68% of Americans support marijuana legalization, including 48% of Republicans.iv In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, seven states around the nation embraced comprehensive marijuana reform, legalizing or approving marijuana for medical or adult-use.
The District of Columbia’s initiative was an important step toward reducing racial disparities in the criminal justice system. A 2013 report found that nine out of 10 drug arrests in Washington D.C. were of African Americans from 2009-2011. Marijuana law violations are the lead category of drug arrests with simple possession representing six out of 10 drug arrests. Despite equal rates of use, African Americans in the District disproportionately carried the brunt of marijuana criminalization and over enforcement.viii Residents of the District voted to regulate marijuana in light of these disparities. There are more than 700,000 residents living in the District of Columbia; Congress should follow the spirit of the Home Rule Act, and allow them to set their own local laws. It is time for Congress to support the District of Columbia’s right to self-determination and lift the rider prohibiting them from regulating marijuana.
Thank you for the opportunity to submit this letter. Please contact Queen Adesuyi, Policy Manager at the Drug Policy Alliance, with any questions, at [email protected] or 202-810-1481.
ACLU of the District of Columbia
American Civil Liberties Union
Anacostia Coordinating Council
Center for Disability Rights
Charm City Care Connection
Competitive Enterprise Institute
The Daniel Initiative
DC Cannabis Business Association
DC Caucus For Returning Citizens
DC Justice Lab
DC Marijuana Justice (DCMJ)
Doctors for Cannabis Regulation
Drug Policy Alliance
Health Care for the Homeless
Health in Justice Action Lab
Interfaith Action for Human Rights
Jane’s List Political Action Committee
Law Enforcement Action Partnership
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
National Association of Social Workers
National Cannabis Industry Association
National Employment Law Project
Neighbors United for DC Statehood
Plant Medicine Coalition
Public Justice Center
R Street Institute
The Sentencing Project
Students for Sensible Drug Policy
The Taifa Group
United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400
Voices for Progress
Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)