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Congress Keeps D.C. Marijuana Sales Ban In Place But Continues Protections For Medical Cannabis States In Spending Legislation

Washington, D.C. would continue to be blocked from legalizing recreational marijuana sales under a bicameral omnibus spending bill that was introduced…

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Washington, D.C. would continue to be blocked from legalizing recreational marijuana sales under a bicameral omnibus spending bill that was introduced by congressional leaders early on Wednesday morning. But a separate provision protecting state and territory medical cannabis programs from federal interference remains intact in the legislation, which is expected to get get voters in both chambers this week.

The ongoing cannabis commerce blockade in D.C. is a disappointment for advocates who had hoped that congressional leaders in the Democratic-controlled Congress would remove the rider like the House did in its version last year and as the Senate also did in a draft version that was circulated by the Appropriations Committee.

Activists also wanted to see an expansion of the current state medical marijuana protection language to cover all state cannabis programs from Justice Department intervention, but that didn’t pan out either.

President Joe Biden’s administration didn’t help when it released its budget proposal for the 2022 fiscal year, which maintained the so-called Harris rider blocking D.C. from using its local tax dollars from allowing cannabis commerce despite voter approval of an initiative to legalize possession and home cultivation eight years ago. The measure, named after its anti-legalization sponsor Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), has been annually renewed since 2014.

More than 50 leading marijuana advocacy and civil rights organizations sent a letter to congressional leaders and appropriators last week, asking that they finally allow recreational cannabis sales to begin in the District.

A House vote on the omnibus appropriations legislation is expected to happen as early as Wednesday, just days before a government spending deadline that had been pushed back multiple times through continuing resolutions. The bill would then head to the Senate and need to be signed into law by Biden ahead of Friday’s midnight deadline to avoid a government shutdown.


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Once that happens, D.C. officials will be blocked from passing legislation to legalize adult-use cannabis sales until at least the end of September, when Fiscal Year 2022 ends. It would be up to Congress to potentially remove the rider from subsequent appropriations legislation.

While there appeared to be shared interest among House and Senate Democrats in ending the D.C. ban as part of the fiscal year 2022 appropriations session, achieving that goal proved logistically complicated.

All four committee leaders handling appropriations reportedly agreed to refrain from adding new or removing existing policy riders without bipartisan, bicameral buy-in—effectively dooming the prospects of eliminating the D.C. language this round due to opposition from top Republicans.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) said last April that local officials are prepared to move forward with implementing a legal system of recreational marijuana sales in the nation’s capital just as soon as they can get over the final “hurdle” of congressional interference.

Meanwhile, the medical marijuana protection rider that was first enacted in 2014 was again included in the omnibus legislation. But despite pleas from advocates and lawmakers to expand the policy to all state and territory cannabis programs—and the House’s approval of amendments to do so—that broader language was not adopted in the newly negotiated bill.

The appropriations legislation and attached reports passed by the House last year also directed federal government agencies to reconsider policies that fire employees for using cannabis in compliance with state law, protect banks from certain punishments for working with marijuana businesses, criticized restrictive hemp regulations, encouraged CBD to be allowed in foods and urged expanded research on cannabis and other substances including psychedelics.

Congressman Pledges To Be A ‘Real Pest’ Until Senate Passes His Marijuana Banking Bill

Photo by Aphiwat chuangchoem.

The post Congress Keeps D.C. Marijuana Sales Ban In Place But Continues Protections For Medical Cannabis States In Spending Legislation appeared first on Marijuana Moment.

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