D.C. Police Chief Robert Contee suggested last week that the illegal cannabis market was partly to blame for the uptick in crime the District is facing. “When you have something where people get high reward—they can make a lot of money by selling illegal marijuana—and the risk is low, the risk for accountability is very low, that creates a very, very, very, very, very bad situation,” Contee stated. However, the White House purposefully sidestepped the chance to co-sign on his cannabis stance.
In a press briefing, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki avoided the specific marijuana issue.
“We look to the crime that has been happening in D.C. —again one of the cities where we’ve seen rising violence over the past year and a half,” Psaki said. “We’re looking to address a range of causes, working in close partnership with the mayor and local police to bring crime down in our city.”
D.C. has suffered under mixed messages between local and federal laws. D.C. voters approved a 2014 initiative to legalize personal possession and cultivation for adults while at the same time Congress passed a spending bill rider that bars the District from regulating retail sales thus relegating cannabis commerce to the illegal market.
Biden’s budget proposal specifically proposes continuing the longstanding Republican-led rider that has prevented the city from spending its own money to regulate adult-use cannabis commerce, for example.
There are signs of hope on the horizon. Late last month, a House committee approved a large-scale funding bill that would delete the rider and allow the District to legalize cannabis sales. The legislation is expected to pass the full House this week.
Marijuana advocates say allowing D.C. to regulate cannabis –giving adults the opportunity to purchase cannabis products from a licensed retailer– could help mitigate the risks associated with an illicit market and would reduce any violent criminal activity that can be tied to illegal cannabis sales.
During his presidential campaign last year, Biden ran on a pledge to enact other modest reforms such as decriminalizing cannabis possession, expunging prior records, and respecting the rights of states to set their own laws. His administration has not yet made progress on any of those promises.