Biden Again Proposes Blocking Marijuana Sales In D.C. In Budget, Despite Promoting Pardons And Scheduling Review

Biden Again Proposes Blocking Marijuana Sales In D.C. In Budget, Despite Promoting Pardons And Scheduling Review

Just days after promoting marijuana reform actions during his State of the Union address, President Joe Biden has released a budget plan that proposes to maintain a controversial provision prohibiting Washington, D.C. from using its local tax dollars to legalize cannabis sales.

The Fiscal Year 2025 budget request, sent to Congress on Monday, also contains some good news for marijuana reform supporters, however. It once again proposes to keep in place a longstanding rider preventing the Justice Department from using its funds to interfere in the implementation of state-level medical cannabis programs.

The D.C. language is the latest disappointment for advocates, marking the fourth year in a row that the president has included the rider from Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) that undermines the District’s autonomy on cannabis. This year will also mark the 10-year anniversary of D.C. voters approving legalization at the ballot, only to have Congress prevent the local government from implementing a regulated market.

D.C. lawmakers have enacted certain workarounds, including allowing people to self-certify as medical marijuana patients. And there’s growing bipartisan interest in removing the congressional rider. But the decade-long blockade has been a consistent source of frustration.

Both the House and Senate had omitted the marijuana rider in their respective versions of appropriations legislation in 2022 before it was ultimately retained following bicameral and bipartisan negotiations.

Congressional leaders haven’t released an agreed-upon 2024 spending bill for Financial Services and General Government (FSGG) that covers the D.C. issue yet. However, the president did sign an appropriations package last week that includes the section protecting state medical cannabis programs, as well as language on studying state marijuana regulatory frameworks in preparation for eventual federal legalization.

The president’s new budget, released on Monday, also proposes to keep riders intact to safeguard the legal hemp industry from federal intervention and to restrict funding for the promotion of legalizing Schedule I drugs.

It further seeks to change the name of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and other federal drug agencies by replacing the word “Abuse” with “Use” in order to “reduce the historic stigma,” SAMHSA said.

With respect to cannabis policy provisions, the budget has not meaningfully changed compared to last year.

Some advocates held hold out hope that Biden would seek to remove the D.C. rider given how he’s promoted his marijuana pardon proclamations and scheduling review directive, including historically during his State of the Union address last week.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has recommended that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) move cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), but its unclear when the law enforcement agency will act on that.

A recent survey found the president’s favorability spiked after people were made aware of the possibility that marijuana could be rescheduled under the Biden-initiated review.

With that, it seems maintaining the D.C. rider represents a potentially missed opportunity to continue leveraging the pro-reform attitude of most voters ahead of the November election.

On the scheduling review, some DEA officials are reportedly resisting calls to reschedule marijuana, creating tension with the White House.

Meanwhile, Vice President Kamala Harris’s office has been reaching out to people who’ve received marijuana possession pardons—seeking assurance that the Justice Department certification process is going smoothly and engaging in broader discussions about cannabis policy reform.

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