The federal ban that’s blocked Washington, D.C. from regulating marijuana sales for nearly a decade would be renewed again under a Fiscal Year 2024 spending bill that cleared a congressional panel on Thursday.
Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) said she was “outraged” to see this and other anti-home rule riders included in the legislation that passed the House Appropriations Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee.
While D.C. voters legalized cannabis possession and home cultivation for adults at the ballot in 2014, the rider from Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) has prevented the District from using local tax dollars to enact rules to create a commercial market. There have been attempts to eliminate the ban under Democratic control, but the rider has nonetheless survived as part of the final spending packages enacted each year since.
Now, with Republicans holding the House majority, the policy has been intentionally included in the base bill, with a summary noting that it “retains the ban on federal and local funds to legalize marijuana in D.C.”
Norton, who has long advocated for D.C. statehood and sharply criticized the ban, said in a press release that while she is “pleased at many of the provisions in the text of the D.C. spending bill,” she’s “outraged” at various components restricting the city’s ability to set its own policies, including the cannabis ban.
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It’s not clear if any lawmakers will seek to amend the legislation in the full Appropriations Committee or on the floor, but even certain GOP members have questioned the rider.
For example, at a House Oversight and Accountability Committee hearing last month, Chairman James Comer (R-KY) seemed sympathetic to the problem, telling D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) that her comments about the rider were among the “things that caught my attention.”
“I didn’t know what the law was on that,” he said. “We’re researching that.”
The issue was separately raised in written testimony for a hearing in Comer’s panel in March.
Advocates have continued to push for an end to the federal blockade, but that effort ultimately failed for the 2023 Fiscal Year, with congressional lawmakers passing a final spending deal before the new session that keeps the rider, even though both the House and Senate had omitted it in their respective versions last year.
After President Joe Biden issued a proclamation in October pardoning Americans who’ve committed federal marijuana possession offenses, as well as people who’ve violated the law in D.C., U.S. Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) called on the president to go further by federally legalizing cannabis and letting the District establish a commercial cannabis market and grant clemency on its own.
The congresswoman said the ongoing local ban, which was maintained in Biden’s first three budget proposals, represents a “shocking violation of D.C. home rule by a Democratic administration.”
A coalition of local, state and national advocacy organizations asked the U.S. attorney general last year to formally adopt a policy of non-enforcement to allow the District to legalize marijuana sales even in light of the ongoing congressional ban.
A poll released last year found that D.C. voters strongly support marijuana legalization and oppose a crackdown on the cannabis “gifting” market that’s emerged in the absence of regulated sales.
Meanwhile, Congress did recently allow a D.C. law to go into effect that makes fundamental changes to the District’s medical marijuana program.
The measure includes reforms such as eliminating cannabis business licensing caps, providing tax relief to operators, further promoting social equity and creating new regulated business categories such as on-site consumption facilities and cannabis cooking classes.
The Medical Cannabis Amendment Act further codifies that adults can self-certify as medical marijuana patients—a policy that’s served as a partial workaround of the federal rider.
Meanwhile, the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday approved a large-scale defense bill that includes GOP-led provisions to create a medical marijuana “pilot program” and require a study into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics for active duty military members under the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD).
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.