All Eyes Turn To Senate As House Approves Budget That Drops Ban On D.C. Pot Sales

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a package of spending bills on Thursday July 29 that, if enacted, would allow D.C. to launch a regulated market for recreational cannabis sales.

D.C. voters overwhelmingly approved possession and home cultivation in a 2014 ballot initiative, but a Congressional budget rider has blocked the jurisdiction from using local tax dollars to fund a retail sales initiative.

The House’s spending package for the next fiscal year doesn’t include the rider—a rebuke to the Biden administration, which maintained the D.C. pot ban in its budget proposal. Biden’s move to keep the rider was a major disappointment to cannabis advocates who had hoped that the arrival of a Democrat in the White House would put an end to the ban. 

Last week, Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C.’s non-voting delegate to the House, celebrated the passage of the budget package, which also repeals a provision that blocks D.C. from funding abortions for low-income women.

“I am very pleased with the fiscal year 2022 D.C. Appropriations bill that the House passed today, and I think D.C. residents will be too,” she said. 

In June, Norton had slammed Biden’s budget for interfering with the District’s local affairs, a move she called “inconsistent” with the administration’s professed support for D.C. statehood. 

The Biden administration has generally been lukewarm on pot. Earlier this year, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki stopped short of endorsing federal legalization, though she said Biden supports decriminalizing the plant, and authorizing its use for medical purposes.

The House’s spending bill doesn’t put an end to the blockade on cannabis sales in the District. The Senate still needs to approve its own version of the budget, and could decide to reintroduce the rider.

That decision will rest heavily on Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who chairs the upper chamber’s Committee on Appropriations, and has the final say on what makes it into budget legislation. So far, Leahy has declined to answer questions from The Outlaw Report regarding his position on the cannabis sales ban, and whether it will be included in the Senate’s budget legislation.

“Chairman Leahy has a long standing policy to not discuss negotiations on what will, or will not, be in the Senate Appropriations bills until after the markups, which are still several weeks away,” a spokesperson for Leahy said in June.

The Appropriations Committee will on Wednesday mark up budget bills from the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, Energy and Water, and Agriculture committees. The remaining markups schedule has yet to be determined, according to Leahy’s office.

The D.C. cannabis rider was first introduced in 2014 by Rep. Andy Harris, Maryland’s sole Republican congressman, as an effort to slow the District’s roll on cannabis legalization. Harris stopped introducing the provision when Democrats regained control of the House in 2018, though it was subsequently picked up by Republicans in the Senate.

In 2019, the House omitted the D.C. cannabis rider from its budget legislation, but the Senate snuck the provision into its own version, and it ultimately made it into the final package signed by then-President Trump.

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