A pro-legalization marijuana supporter smokes in front of the White House in Washington, D.C., on April 2, 2016. Two years earlier, Washington, D.C., residents voted to legalize recreational pot. File Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo
March 11 (UPI) -- A Republican-supported ban against selling recreational marijuana in Washington, D.C., will stand after it was part of the $1.5 trillion spending bill passed by Congress on Thursday to avoid a federal shutdown.
The ban, included in a provision called the "Harris Rider," prohibits the legalization of recreational pot in the nation's capital -- even though the measure is controversial and a majority of D.C. residents have supported making marijuana sales legal.
The ban was included in the large omnibus bill passed by Congress by Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md. It was passed by the House earlier this week and will be signed by President Joe Biden on Friday. It funds the government through fiscal 2022.
Sen. Chris Van Hollen, chair of the appropriations subcommittee, said that passing the spending bill with the Harris Rider intact was a matter of prioritizing more critical concerns, like keeping the federal government operating.
"We don't like the fact it's there," Van Hollen told The Hill. "But it was a choice between providing D.C. and the American people with funding for their big priorities and still having them and not having them.
"Republicans were the ones who insisted. They were ready to shut down the government."
Almost two-thirds of D.C. residents voted to legalize recreational marijuana in 2014 -- leading to an unusual arrangement in the district. It is legal to possess recreational pot in Washington, but it's illegal to sell and tax marijuana. Harris' ban prevents D.C. from regulating and taxing recreational pot sales.
"We have a burgeoning illegal, unregulated market that's surrounded with criminal activity," D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson told The Washington Post. "The market's not only illegal, but there is criminal activity such as robberies around these black-market pop-ups.
"And we can't do anything about it because we cannot regulate the sale of distribution of marijuana because of this rider."
Taking advantage of Democrats' efforts to avoid a filibuster, Republicans doubled down this week on saving "legacy riders" -- which also includes the Hyde Amendment, which outlaws the use of federal funds for abortion.
Congressional Republicans have tucked in the ban to every spending bill since voters approved legal marijuana eight years ago.
"I'm surprised and deeply disappointed by both the House and Senate's inability to negotiate on behalf of Washingtonians, especially on one of the most bipartisan issues in the country," Queen Adesuyi, senior national policy manager at the Drug Policy Alliance, said according to The Hill.
A Gallup poll last year found that 83% of Democrats in Washington, D.C., 71% of independents and half of Republicans support legalizing recreational marijuana.