Biden Proposes to Block Marijuana Sales in D.C. Despite New Approach to Cannabis

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Biden Proposes to Block Marijuana Sales in D.C. Despite New Approach to Cannabis

Biden's Budget Proposal Retains Marijuana Ban in D.C. Despite Promoting New Cannabis Policy

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President Joe Biden latest budget request for the Fiscal Year 2024 has left advocates disappointed with his consistent refusal to lift the appropriations rider that bans Washington, D.C. from allowing cannabis sales. Despite promoting a new approach to marijuana policy, the president is targeting the autonomy of D.C. on marijuana commerce for the third year in a row.

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The Budget Proposal and Its Impact

The president’s budget appendix, released on Monday, proposes to keep riders intact to safeguard the legal hemp industry from federal intervention and restrict funding for the promotion of legalizing Schedule I drugs. While the rider to prevent Justice Department interference in state- and territory-level medical cannabis programs remains intact, D.C.’s autonomy on marijuana commerce is being targeted yet again.

For advocates, the president’s proposal to continue blocking D.C. from spending its own local funds to commercialize marijuana is particularly disappointing. D.C. voters approved cannabis legalization at the ballot in 2014, but the appropriations rider from Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) has represented a major obstacle that has kept local lawmakers from enacting commerce legislation that’s been put forward over recent years.

The Role of Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton

Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) has been particularly critical of the administration for actively undermining the sovereignty of the District with respect to marijuana policy, while simultaneously expressing support for the District’s statehood. Norton stated that “for the third time in his presidency, the president’s proposed budget would, unfortunately, block D.C. from spending its own local funds to commercialize marijuana.”

While the Harris rider was kept in the 2024 budget request, Biden did propose to remove language that has blocked the city from using its funds to provide abortion services.

The Impact on Cannabis Access

Both the House and Senate had omitted the marijuana rider in their respective versions of appropriations legislation last year before it was ultimately retained following bicameral and bipartisan negotiations. Meanwhile, District lawmakers have taken several steps to expand cannabis access while being bound by the Harris rider. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) signed legislation in January that contains a provision codifying that adults can self-certify as medical marijuana patients without a doctor’s recommendation, effectively circumventing the congressional blockade, for example.

Lawmakers continue to introduce cannabis sales measures, which they’re allowed to discuss as long as the reforms aren’t enacted, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

Biden Approach to Marijuana Policy

Biden’s latest budget request maintains a separate rider that prevents the Justice Department from using its funds to interfere in the implementation of medical cannabis programs in states and territories. While past administrations, both Democratic and Republican, have proposed scrapping that language, Congress has consistently upheld it regardless since it was first enacted in 2014.

When Trump signed the large-scale spending legislation in 2019, he attached a statement that said he is empowered to ignore the congressionally approved medical cannabis rider, stating that the administration “will treat this provision consistent with the President’s constitutional responsibility to faithfully execute the laws of the United States.”

Conclusion

Despite President Biden promoting a new approach to marijuana policy, his latest budget request continues to block D.C. from allowing cannabis sales. While advocates support the appropriations rider to prevent Justice Department interference in state- and territory-level medical cannabis programs, they are dismayed to see D.C.’s autonomy on marijuana commerce is being targeted for the third year in a row. With the Harris rider continuing to represent a major obstacle to enacting commerce legislation, advocates and lawmakers are left with limited options to expand cannabis access in the District.

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