As D.C. seems unable to fully create a proper cannabis program, it is overcoming the roadblocks step by step.
By Nina Zdinjak
The new bicameral omnibus spending bill presented on Wednesday by congressional leaders in Washington D.C. would keep a ban on allowing legal recreational cannabis sales. On the other hand, a different provision that protects state-legal medical marijuana programs from federal interference was left unchanged in the proposed measures, reported Marijuana Moment.
And so, the long-standing problem for cannabis businesses in Washington D.C. looks like it will remain, despite recent efforts to change it.
On March 4, the Drug Policy Alliance and more than 50 criminal justice reform, business, labor, and drug policy organizations, sent a letter to key House and Senate appropriators as well as Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, demanding the removal of the appropriations rider that has prevented the District of Columbia from spending its own money to legalize and regulate adult-use marijuana sales.
Though adult-use cannabis was legalized in Washington D.C. in 2014, a rider that has remained valid over the course of several presidential budget proposals has prevented the District from fully exercising its legal cannabis program.
As such, adults over 21 are allowed to grow and possess cannabis yet commercial sales remain stalled under the rider, which was also included in President Biden’s last budget for 2022. Last year, the rider was purposely left out of a spending bill approved by the House and circulated in draft form in the Senate.
Now, the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) is urging members of Congress “to maintain the removal of the Congressional budget rider, also known as the ‘Harris’ rider,” that continues to prohibit the District of Columbia from establishing a regulatory framework for the sale and taxation of marijuana.
The newly introduced bill proved to be a disappointment to advocates who were expecting congressional leaders in the Democratic-controlled Congress to remove the rider. In addition, an expansion of the current state medical cannabis protection language to cover all state cannabis programs from the Justice Department intervention was also dismissed.
The House is expected to vote on the omnibus appropriations legislation on Wednesday. If passed, the bill would move to the Senate. The move comes several days before a government spending deadline, which has already been pushed back several times. This means that the bill will require Biden’s signature before the deadline in order not to be thrown into the crisis of a possible government shutdown.
When and if that occurs, D.C. officials will be denied a chance to pass a measure that legalizes recreation cannabis sales until at least the end of September, after which Congress can choose to remove the rider, or not.
Nevertheless, as D.C. seems unable to fully create a proper cannabis program, it is overcoming the roadblocks step by step. Take, for example, the District’s recent pre-employment marijuana testing bill, unanimously approved by the Labor & Workforce Development Committee, that bans most workplaces from subjecting job applicants to drug testing procedures.
Sponsored by Councilmember Trayon White (D), the proposal builds on previous legislation the D.C. Council passed to help local government employees who face workplace discrimination due to their use of medical marijuana.