Congresswoman urges Biden to allow DC to legalize marijuana and grant clemency locally

A congresswoman, Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, believes that President Joe Biden's pardons for marijuana offenses are a step in the right direction. She is pleading with the administration to go even further and allow Washington, D.C. to independently legalize cannabis for sale and award pardons.

Asserting that the clemency process has to be improved, Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) expressed her gratitude for the president's choice to pardon over 6,500 persons who broke the law by possessing cannabis in the District.

Currently, only the president has the authority to grant pardons for crimes committed in the District, but other states have some other autonomous procedure through which governors and pardon authorities are authorized to grant that relief. Therefore, despite Biden's appeal for governors to follow his example, in Washington, D.C., authorities are legally restrained.

Norton also pointed out that the president's most recent two budget proposals featured a GOP-sponsored rider that prohibited the District from using local tax funds to create a controlled marijuana market although D.C. voters approved marijuana legalization in 2014.

The legislation is "a surprising infringement of D.C. home rule by a Democratic government," the lawmaker claimed.

It shouldn't be necessary for Washington, D.C., to rely on the president to show mercy and mitigate the effects of discriminatory policies, she claimed. D.C. ought to have the power to grant clemency for crimes committed under D.C. law, just as the states and territories can do for crimes committed in violation of their laws. The Biden administration ought to openly support granting D.C. this power.

Norton's more extensive home rule proposal, which was passed by the House Oversight Committee last month, would allow the District exclusive clemency discretion for persons who have committed major local offenses.

Voters in D.C. are strongly in favor of legalizing marijuana, and they oppose taking action against the gifting market for cannabis that has developed in the absence of regulated sales, according to a survey conducted last month.

Lawmakers from Washington, D.C., recently submitted letters to the heads of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees pleading with them to remove the rider barring municipal cannabis sales from the Fiscal Year 2023 budget bill.

An estimated $600 million worth of cannabis is sold annually in the District. The rider makes it impossible to ensure consumer and public safety and puts legitimate medicinal cannabis businesses in the District with operating permits at risk of going out of business. As a result, the vast majority of these sales remain unregulated.

The House removed the D.C. marijuana ban language from the pertinent FY 2023 funding bill in July. The Democratic Appropriations Committee chairman's measure, which is now on the Senate's agenda, also excludes the rider.

Biden has consistently faced criticism from reform activists for his last two budget plans that contained the rider, despite his support for D.C. statehood and his belief that states should be allowed to regulate marijuana without interference from the federal government.

In June, the D.C. Council passed a bill allowing patients to self-certify as medical cannabis patients under the District's current program, allowing them to access dispensaries without prescriptions, while Congress considers the future of the rider. In essence, a way was discovered to circumvent the federal ban.

Around a week after the law was approved, Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) signed it, and the District saw a jump in registrations for medicinal cannabis.

Bowser, Norton, and other city officials have frequently reproached Congress for singling out the District and preventing it from pursuing state-level initiatives without intervention from the federal government.

In July, Norton expressed her "pretty optimistic" belief that the rider won't be incorporated into the final budget plan. She continued by saying that until then, the D.C. self-certification approach is an "effective workaround."

A different piece of legislation passed into law this year that permits persons aged 65 and/or older to certify for medical cannabis (without having the doctor’s consent) has been significantly expanded by the measure's patient self-certification provision.

In July, the mayor approved a law that forbids the majority of employers from terminating or otherwise penalizing staff members for marijuana usage.

The modification is meant to go beyond a previous regulation that legislators passed to protect local government employees from being treated unfairly at work because they use medical cannabis.

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