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D.C. Can Take Steps Toward Legalizing Marijuana Sales Amid Congressional Ban

Nothing in federal law prevents city officials from taking preliminary legislative steps

A federal oversight agency has determined that a congressionally enacted spending bill rider that prevents Washington, D.C. from legalizing marijuana sales does not preclude local officials from taking procedural steps to prepare for the eventual reform.

Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), a legalization opponent who’s routinely sponsored the amendment to stop D.C. from spending its own local tax dollars to implement a regulated cannabis market, complained to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in 2019 after members of the District of Columbia Council introduced a legal sales bill and referred it to committees.

But the GAO released a letter clarifying that nothing in federal law prevents the city officials from taking such preliminary legislative steps as long as the proposal isn’t actually enacted while the congressional ban stays on the books. With Democrats now in control of the House of Representatives, Senate and White House, advocates believe that it won’t be long before the rider is repealed and cannabis sales can be legalized in the nation’s capital.

“D.C. government officials did not violate section 809 of the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act, 2019, or the Antideficiency Act, when they obligated and expended funds in FY 2019 to draft, introduce, and refer a bill to various Committees because the officials did not obligate or expend amounts to enact the bill into law,” GAO General Counsil Thomas H. Armstrong wrote in his seven-page report.

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