House Budget Bill Scraps Biden’s Proposed Ban On Recreational Cannabis Sales In D.C.

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House lawmakers greenlit a spending bill on Tuesday that leaves out a controversial provision banning D.C. from legalizing recreational cannabis sales.

In a 33 to 24 vote, the House Appropriations Committee approved the Financial Services and General Government bill for fiscal year 2022.  The legislation, which now heads to the House floor for a full vote, eliminates a policy rider that blocks the District from using local funds to launch a regulated market for recreational cannabis. 

For years, Republican lawmakers have slipped the provision—oft-referred to as the Harris Rider—into annual budget legislation, ignoring the will of D.C. residents, who overwhelmingly voted to legalize cannabis back in 2014 and expected a commercial cannabis market.

Congressman Mike Quigley (D-IL), Chair of the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee, celebrated the spending bill’s markup on Tuesday, highlighting the removal of the Harris rider.

“I am also proud that the bill removes several longstanding policy riders that I consider to be harmful, including many that dictate to the District of Columbia how to manage its own affairs or spend its own money or that harm limit transparency in political spending,” Quigley said.

The move comes as a stinging rebuke of the Biden administration, which shocked D.C. residents and officials last month by including the reviled rider in its budget proposal. The arrival of a Democrat in the White House in January had stirred hope among Washingtonians that the rider would finally be tossed out.

Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C.’s sole congressional delegate, was quick to slam Biden’s move to preserve the rider as inconsistent with the president’s professed support for D.C. statehood. 

“I am having a hard time reconciling the administration’s strong support for D.C. statehood, which would give D.C. not only voting representation in Congress but also full local self-government, with a budget that prohibits D.C. from spending its local funds on recreational marijuana commercialization,” Norton said in a press release earlier this month.

But Norton and other Democrats vowed to move forward without the rider in the House’s appropriations process—and so they did. 

Along with scrapping the cannabis rider, the spending bill omits a contentious ban on the use of funds for needle exchange programs and abortion services in the District, and limits the President’s ability to federalize D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department.

It also includes language protecting banks that provide services to cannabis businesses in states where the drug is legal, including the District of Columbia.

The Congressional budget process has come under sharp scrutiny this year from statehood advocates looking to capitalize on Democratic control in the House and Senate to move the needle on D.C. autonomy. 

DC Vote, a group that promotes statehood, urged lawmakers on Tuesday to refrain from changing the spending bill in a letter signed by dozens of national and local organizations.  

“Should the bill be amended, we are concerned that the FY’22 spending bill will, yet again,

attempt to undermine local decisions made by the people of the District of Columbia and

their locally elected leadership,” the letter said. “These local laws were enacted to address concerns that are important to the more than 700,000 residents who call Washington, DC home. When Congress attempts to impose legislative ‘riders,’ they seek to overturn the work of our locally elected officials and ignore the voices of our neighbors.”

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