DC Council chair says Congress is making ‘lawless’ marijuana situation worse

The chairman of the D.C. Council said that Congress is making crime worse in the District by continuing to stop local leaders from regulating the sale of recreational marijuana.

“It perpetuates the current lawless situation in the city,” said Council Chairman Phil Mendelson. “Congress needs to step out of this.”

Included in a $1.5 trillion government funding bill passed by Congress on Thursday was a continuation of a measure that bans D.C. from establishing a system to tax and regulate recreational marijuana sales.

Marijuana has been legal in D.C. for medical and recreational purposes since 2010 and 2015, respectively, and existing laws allow adults in the District to legally grow, use and share small amounts of the plant.

It remains illegal to sell recreational marijuana, but that hasn’t stopped “pop-up” stores from selling the drug anyway.

“These pop-ups are illegal,” Mendelson told WTOP, calling the situation “the wild west.”

“It’s an invitation to criminal activity, such as robberies,” Mendelson added. “It is fomenting criminal activity and that’s the public safety problem that Congress has handed us.”

The U.S. House of Representatives has final say on D.C. laws, and congressional Republicans have repeatedly, and successfully, stalled efforts to legalize marijuana sales within the District.

The ban on D.C. being able to establish retail marijuana sales is widely known as the “Harris Rider,” named for U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, a Republican from Maryland who introduced the measure in Congress after D.C. residents voted to legalize recreational marijuana.

“We simply cannot regulate the sale or distribution,” said Mendelson. “It’s half-legal and it’s half not legal and it’s causing a real public safety problem for the city.”

Mendelson clarified that businesses cannot circumvent the law by having customers buy something — a $60 T-shirt, for example — and receive a “free gift” of marijuana in return.

“The folks who are selling marijuana under the guise of gifting are breaking the law,” Mendelson said. “The law simply does not permit what they’re doing.”

Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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