Even as the Biden administration works to promote the idea of taking a new approach to marijuana policy, the president is again proposing to keep banning Washington, D.C. from allowing cannabis sales.
While President Joe Biden’s budget request for Fiscal Year 2024 does maintain a long-standing appropriations rider to prevent Justice Department interference in state- and territory-level medical cannabis programs that advocates support, they are dismayed to see D.C.’s autonomy on marijuana commerce is being targeted by the president for the third year in a row.
The budget appendix, released on Monday, also proposes to keep riders intact to safeguard the legal hemp industry from federal intervention and to restrict funding for the promotion of legalizing Schedule I drugs.
For advocates, the president’s consistent refusal to request lifting the D.C. cannabis provision—which has prevented the District from using local tax dollars to implement a system of adult-use marijuana sales—is particularly disappointing.
D.C. voters approved cannabis legalization at the ballot in 2014, but the 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.
Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) has been particularly critical of the administration for simultaneously expressing support for the District’s statehood while actively undermining its sovereignty with respect to marijuana policy.
“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,” the congresswoman told Marijuana Moment on Monday.
While the Harris rider was kept in the 2024 budget request, Biden did again propose to remove language that has blocked the city from using its funds to provide abortion services.
This latest proposal also comes after Congress voted to overrule a recently enacted D.C. law to significantly revise the jurisdiction’s criminal code—an action supported by the president that’s similarly generated criticism from statehood advocates.
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).
Some held out hope that Biden would remove the D.C. rider this time around given that he signed a mass marijuana pardon in October for people who’ve committed federal possession offenses and directed an administrative review into cannabis scheduling.
It’s been a frequent talking point for the president, who’s described the action as a reflection of his belief that nobody should be in jail over cannabis and touted the idea of taking a fundamentally new approach to marijuana.
Biden’s 2024 budget request does maintain 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.
Past administrations—both Democratic and Republican—have proposed scrapping that language. President Donald Trump and President Barack Obama each called for ending the policy as part of their budget proposals. But 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.”
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Biden’s budget also includes an estimated $15 million in funding to support industrial hemp production for 2023 and proposes to continue longstanding riders protecting state programs from federal intervention.
For the second year, Biden’s budget proposal for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) also pushes to remove the word ‘abuse’ from drug-focused agency names within HHS and rebrand them to the Substance use And Mental Health Services Administration, National Institute on Alcohol Effects and Alcohol-Associated Disorders and National Institute on Drugs and Addiction, for example
Separately, advocates have expressed frustration about the routine inclusion of an appropriations rider for the Department of Labor that prohibits the use of funding for “any activity that promotes the legalization of any drug or other substance included in schedule I of the schedules of controlled substances,” unless there’s “significant medical evidence of a therapeutic advantage” or a federally sponsored clinical trial into the drug.