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Congressional Leaders Again Seek To Block D.C. Marijuana Sales, While Funding Psychedelic Studies, In New Spending Bill

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Congressional leaders have unveiled a second package of spending legislation to keep the government funded, with provisions included that would continue to block Washington, D.C. from legalizing marijuana sales, fund psychedelics-related clinical trials and more.

House and Senate appropriations leaders released the bill on Wednesday after reaching an agreement on the remaining Fiscal Year 2024 spending that wasn’t included in separate legislation enacted earlier this month. The plan is to pass the package ahead of a Friday deadline when the current continuing resolution is set to expire.

Despite repeated calls from advocates and lawmakers to remove a controversial rider that’s barred the District of Columbia from using its local tax dollars to implement a system of legal cannabis sales since 2014, that component was left intact in the bipartisan and bicameral deal. It was also recently included in President Joe Biden’s 2025 budget request for the fourth year in a row.

The language, championed by prohibitionist Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), is again being proposed in the Financial Services and General Government (FSGG) appropriations legislation even though D.C. voters approved legalization at the ballot a decade ago. Lawmakers in the District have enacted certain workarounds, including allowing people to self-certify as medical marijuana patients, but the congressional blockade has been a consistent source of frustration.

“SEC. 809. (a) None of the Federal funds contained in this Act may be used to enact or carry out any law, rule, or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce penalties associated with the possession, use, or distribution of any schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 801 et seq.) or any tetrahydrocannabinols derivative.

(b) No funds available for obligation or expenditure by the District of Columbia government under any authority may be used to enact any law, rule, or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce penalties associated with the possession, use, or distribution of any schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 801 et seq.) or any tetrahydrocannabinols derivative for recreational purposes.”

Another section of a bill covering the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Education broadly prohibits the use of funds “for any activity that promotes the legalization of any drug or other substance” in Schedule I, including cannabis and various psychedelics.

“SEC. 509. (a) None of the funds made available in this Act may be used for any activity that promotes the legalization of any drug or other substance included in schedule I of the schedules of controlled substances established under section 202 of the Controlled Substances Act except for normal and recognized executive-congressional communications.”

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) has previously sought to strip that component with an amendment, aiming to promote psychedelics research, but it was shot down in floor votes.

There are some new drug policy-related provisions in this year’s package, as well. That includes two funding allocations for psychedelics clinical trials under the measure covering the Department of Defense (DOD).

The report attached to the legislation specifies that $10 million to be appropriated to DOD for department-wide “psychedelic medical clinical trials.”

This seems to be the funding mechanism for a component of the 2024 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that Biden signed in December that instructs DOD to carry out trials involving psilocybin, MDMA, ibogaine and 5-MeO-DMT for active duty service members with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or traumatic brain injury (TBI).

Under a section for “base operations and communications,” another $200,000 that’s designated as “undistributed” is earmarked for “psychedelic treatment for TBI report,” specifying funds focused on the role of psychedelics in treating traumatic brain injuries.

Another new cannabis component was including the report covering funding for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The section, introduced by Congressional Cannabis Caucus co-chair Rep. Dave Joyce (R-OH), calls on the department’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) division to report to Congress on issues related to illicit grow operations in legal marijuana states that are run by “transnational criminal organizations, including but not limited to those based in the People’s Republic of China.”

“Illegal Grow Operations.-Within 60 days of the date of enactment of this Act, HSI shall provide a briefing to the Committees on ongoing investigative efforts regarding illicit grow operations of marijuana in States with legal production and sales frameworks that are run by transnational criminal organizations, including but not limited to those based in the People’s Republic of China. The briefing shall include HSI’s coordination with the DOJ and details of investigations of ancillary crimes, such as human trafficking and forced labor, that are potentially tied to illegal grow operations.”

In a statement on Thursday, Joyce said he was “proud to have successfully included this critical language in this year’s Homeland Security Appropriations bill.”

“This directive will help identify and combat the illicit actors who are abusing state legal cannabis markets and harming public safety for nefarious purposes,” he said.

This is the second and final round of appropriations legislation for the current fiscal year. A separate package that Biden signed earlier this month also includes provisions preserving protections for state medical cannabis programs as well as report language that calls for the federal government to study state legalization laws and expand scientists’ access to commercially available cannabis for research.

The House has also previously attempted to use the FSGG bill to secure limited protections for banks that work with state-legal marijuana businesses, but leadership did not seek to enact that reform through appropriations this round.

However, once this latest funding legislation is passed, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has signaled he will be prioritizing a standalone bipartisan cannabis banking bill that cleared committee last year and is pending floor action.

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Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Sacramento-based managing editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

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