The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee unveiled a spending bill on Monday that omits a controversial provision banning D.C. from legalizing recreational cannabis sales.
Though D.C. residents voted to legalize weed back in 2014, the provision — informally known as the Harris rider — has for years blocked District officials from using local funds to launch a regulated market for adult-use cannabis.
But on Monday the measure was nowhere to be found in the Senate’s Financial Services and General Government appropriations bill for FY 2022. In last year’s bill, the rider was included under Section 809.
In July, the House passed its own rider-free spending bill, but cannabis advocates remained concerned the Senate would uphold the provision this year. Senate Republicans have routinely re-inserted the provision in annual spending legislation, impeding efforts by D.C. officials to start taxing and regulating recreational pot.
Last month, a group of local cannabis activists gathered on Capitol Hill to urge Senators to remove the provision, shouting slogans and parading a 51-foot inflatable joint outside the Russell Senate building. The protest was so loud that Capitol Police asked the demonstrators to quiet down to avoid disturbing lawmakers.
Adam Eidinger, who led the protest as co-founder of DC Marijuana Justice, told The Outlaw Report he was relieved that Senate Democrats, who took narrow control of the Upper Chamber this year, had opted to remove the provision from next year’s budget bill.
“Perhaps the senators were listening and they heard us,” he laughed.
The rider-free bill — part of a larger spending package released by Appropriations Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) — still needs to be approved by the full Senate floor and signed by President Biden. But Eidinger isn’t concerned.
“It’s the last step of the process here,” he said. “I don’t think [Biden] is going to veto what comes out of Congress.”
In June, the White House released a budget proposal that included the rider, frustrating D.C. officials and residents who had hoped the arrival of a Democrat in the White House would put an end to the ban.
The Senate Appropriations Committee’s decision to scrap the rider comes as the D.C. Council is preparing for its first-ever hearing on a bill to legalize recreational cannabis sales. The legislation would create a legal framework for retail weed, expunge nonviolent cannabis offenses, and reinvest 50% of tax revenue in communities harmed by prohibition.
Until now, the council bill’s future seemed uncertain: D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser can’t legally sign legislation to legalize cannabis sales as long as the Congressional ban remains in place. But Eidinger, who was instrumental in getting legalization on D.C.’s ballot in 2014, said the bill’s odds of passing are now higher than ever.
“It’s not a hypothetical anymore,” he said. “It’s really going to happen.”