How Potential DC Statehood Will Impact the Cannabis Industry

How Potential DC Statehood Will Impact the Cannabis Industry

Published on 6/20/21

What would happen if Washington, D.C. became a full-fledged state? There are thousands of repercussions both big and small, but we're going to focus on one near and dear to our hearts: cannabis. How would the statehood of Washington D.C. affect the cannabis scene? Let's take a look at what the movement is about, how legitimate this potential statehood might be and what exactly it could mean for DC marijuana laws.

Washington, D.C. & Congress Control


Is Washington, D.C. a state? No, but why is DC not a state? The Founding Fathers created DC in the United States Constitution, stating that the district should never exceed 10 square miles works as the seat of the federal government. It wasn't until 1961 with the passing of the 23rd Amendment that residents of DC could vote in federal elections, and the district didn't receive a non-voting delegate in the House until 1970. 

Unfortunately, because of DC's position as the seat of the federal government, Congress controls many of its most important issues, including cannabis laws. In 1973, The Home Rule Act gave the district an elected Mayor and District Council that governs over the citizenry. However, under this Act, Congress reviews all legislation passed by the district's council and maintains control over the DC's budget. Between legislative oversight and budgetary control, nothing passes in DC without sign-off by Congress.

The History of the Washington DC Statehood Movement

Washington, D.C. has been suing for statehood for over a century, but the modern statehood movement didn't seriously start until the 1980s. In 1993, Congress voted on DC statehood for the first time and failed 277 to 153. It wasn't until 2020 when the House passed legislation along party lines to declare DC's statehood. Now it's up to the Senate to vote. Most residents of the capital want statehood for formal voting representation, control over policies & procedures and finally, racial representation since the majority of DC residents (46%) are black. Unfortunately due to congressional oversight and budgetary control, cannabis is one of those regulations that barred from proper legalization.

Washington DC Cannabis Laws


Both medical and recreational cannabis are legal in Washington D.C., but that doesn't mean they are easily accessible. In 2010, the district created its MMJ program but limited the number of operational dispensaries within the district limits. Recreational weed is an entirely different beast. Initiative 71 (the Legalization of Possession of Minimal Amounts of Marijuana for Personal Use Act) passed in 2015, effectively legalizing recreational cannabis for adults 21 and older. However, six years later and there is still not a single adult-use dispensary in DC. 

All of this is due to the "Harris Rider," extra legislation written into the annual congress-approved appropriations bill that prevents DC from using any money to regulate recreational weed. Currently, you can only acquire recreational weed by growing your own strain or gifting it. Technically, it is illegal for businesses to "gift" weed when you purchase items like t-shirts and trinkets. Of course, this isn't the ideal solution so this legal gray area brings a lot of fraud. So it isn't easy to know how to find weed in DC.

What Statehood Could Mean for Cannabis in DC

So, when will recreational dispensaries open in DC? Since Democrats control Congress and there is currently overwhelming support for recreational weed within DC, we're hoping it's sooner rather than later. Since 2016, the Republican-controlled congress renewed the Harris Rider. This is also largely why many people sideline DC Statehood as a highly improbable political dream. Now that Democrats have the congressional majority, two things can happen that will drastically change cannabis in DC:

  1. The Harris Rider gets removed from the annual appropriations bill.
  2. Congress admits DC as the 51st state of the United States of America. 

If DC statehood becomes reality, congress would no longer have control over its budget. Therefore allowing DC to allocate funds to regulate marijuana, resulting in adult-use dispensaries and proper taxation. There will likely be other changes to cannabis in DC if Congress grants statehood, but we won't know until it happens.  

The Washington DC Statehood Movement & Its' Future


While the movement has ebbed and flowed over the last 40 years as recently as 2019,  two-thirds of American citizens disapproved of DC statehood. Now there has been a significant increase in discussion and potential in 2021. The results of the November 2020 election gave Democrats control of Congress and the White House, a favorable position for local supporters of the movement. In April 2021, the Washington, D.C. Admissions Act passed along party lines, 216 to 208. This statehood bill now must gather the support of at least 60 Senators and then pass in the Senate. However, if actualized, the Admissions Act would result in Washington, D.C. becoming the 51st state of the United States of America. Make sure to check in here for updates on this historic enterprise that might result in a new state and quicker access to recreational dispensaries in DC. 

Do you live in Washington, D.C.? What's your take on the statehood movement and how do you feel about the current cannabis laws in our capital. Comment below!

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