Norton Says Repealing Rider Barring D.C. from Commercializing Recreational Marijuana Would Increase Tax Revenue in Time of Great Need

Apr 3, 2020
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) today called on Congress to repeal the rider that prohibits the District of Columbia from spending its local funds to commercialize recreational marijuana in the next coronavirus response bill. At a time of increased expenses and decreased revenue, the District should be able to generate tax revenue from recreational marijuana, just like the 10 states that have commercialized recreational marijuana.

In 2014, District voters approved an initiative legalizing the possession by adults of small amounts of marijuana for recreational use. Republicans immediately imposed a rider on the D.C. Appropriations bill to try to block the initiative from taking effect, but Norton successfully argued that the rider was flawed and only blocked D.C. from spending its local funds to commercialize recreational marijuana. As a result, D.C. residents can now possess up to two ounces of marijuana for recreational use, but the rider forces them into the illegal market to buy recreational marijuana because the sale of recreational marijuana remains illegal in the District. The rider has remained in place since then. However, last year, Norton got the rider removed in the House’s fiscal year (FY) 2020 D.C. Appropriations bill, but the Senate’s FY 2020 D.C. Appropriations bill maintained the rider and the enacted FY 2020 D.C. Appropriations bill, at the insistence of the White House and Senate, maintained the rider. Notwithstanding the rider, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and members of the D.C. Council have proposed legislation to commercialize recreational marijuana, which will be passed by the Council once the rider is removed.

“At this moment of unparalleled need, D.C. should be able to collect tax revenue from all available sources, like every other jurisdiction, including from recreational marijuana, which is believed to be widely used in the District. Last week, Senate Republicans and the White House shorted D.C. $750 million in the latest coronavirus relief bill by treating D.C. as a territory instead of a state,as is usually the case for federal funding, leaving the District without the support states received to provide government services during this unprecedented emergency.

"While I am working for a retroactive fix in the next coronavirus bill, it is imperative that Congress also repeal the D.C. recreational marijuana commercialization rider in the next bill to help D.C. shore up its finances. It is beyond unreasonable that congressional interference keeps only the District from commercializing recreational marijuana, while all other jurisdictions are free to do so. Bringing the District in line with other jurisdictions would create a critical source of tax revenue in our time of need.”