The longstanding congressional rider to prevent Washington D.C. from developing its framework for adult-use cannabis sales was included in this year’s omnibus spending package, according to a Politico report. The impediment’s inclusion came as a surprise to D.C. activists when the bill was released on Wednesday — named after Republican Rep. Andy Harris, the “Harris rider” had been absent in previous House and Senate Democratic budget proposals but was ultimately included in the budget by President Joe Biden (D).
Since D.C. residents voted overwhelmingly in favor of legalizing adult-use cannabis in 2014, Congress has refused to let the nation’s capital create a regulated marketplace. As it stands, residents can possess, grow, and gift various amounts of cannabis, which has blossomed into a so-called “gray market” where vendors sell other products and gift cannabis with each sale.
Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) and the Washington D.C. City Council have attempted to regulate the industry but were stymied each time by Congressional inaction. Local lawmakers say they are looking for a workaround to make the gray market legal.
In a statement, U.S. Cannabis Council (USCC) CEO Steven Hawkins said the organization is “deeply disappointed by Congress’ failure to act on cannabis reform in this year’s spending bill.”
“Congress had been poised to make real progress, including clearing hurdles put in place by Rep. Andy Harris which prevent the District of Columbia from implementing regulated cannabis sales following a successful legalization referendum. This created a harmful underground market that operates without any standards or safeguards and is at odds with the will of local voters.” – Hawkins in a press release
Toi Hutchinson, President and CEO of the Marijuana Policy Project, said, “We are very disappointed that Congress continues to prevent residents of D.C. from regulating cannabis despite their urgent and repeated requests for reform. Instead, Congress is forcing the District to maintain a gray market in which cannabis can be legally possessed and consumed by adults, but it cannot be legally sold, regulated, or tested. This places consumers at risk, and entrepreneurs who live in this minority-majority community are denied the ability to open businesses that are available in every other legal cannabis jurisdiction.”
The omnibus spending package also failed to extend legal protections to adult-use cannabis programs in states that have approved the reforms. The protections, similar to those granted to state medical cannabis programs since 2014, made it out of the House but were ultimately removed in the Senate’s version of the bill.
Senate Minority Whip John Thune told TIME he expected the bill would be passed quickly in a bipartisan vote, partly because the package contains $14 billion in humanitarian aid to assist with refugees and defense capabilities in Ukraine.
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