WASHINGTON, D.C.—Advocates for marijuana legalization are expressing disappointment with President Joe Biden’s failure to keep his word on cannabis-related campaign promises, particularly in relation to the District of Columbia. The Biden administration is proposing to keep banning Washington, D.C. from allowing cannabis sales for the third year in a row, despite the District’s voters approving cannabis legalization at the ballot in 2014. This ban has prevented the District from using local tax dollars to implement a system of adult-use marijuana sales, and local lawmakers have been unable to enact commerce legislation due to the rider from Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD).
While President Biden’s budget request for Fiscal Year 2024 does maintain a long-standing appropriations rider to prevent Justice Department interference in state- and territory-level medical cannabis programs that advocates support, they are dismayed to see D.C.’s autonomy on marijuana commerce being targeted by the president. Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) has been particularly critical of the administration for simultaneously expressing support for the District’s statehood while actively undermining its sovereignty with respect to marijuana policy.
Furthermore, advocates have expressed frustration with the inclusion of an appropriations rider for the Department of Labor that prohibits the use of funding for “any activity that promotes the legalization of any drug or other substance included in schedule I of the schedules of controlled substances,” unless there is “significant medical evidence of a therapeutic advantage” or a federally sponsored clinical trial into the drug.
Despite Biden’s signing of a mass marijuana pardon in October for people who have committed federal possession offenses and directing an administrative review into cannabis scheduling, his consistent refusal to lift the D.C. cannabis provision is particularly disappointing to advocates. The president has described this action as a reflection of his belief that nobody should be in jail over cannabis and has touted the idea of taking a fundamentally new approach to marijuana.
Past administrations, both Democratic and Republican, have proposed scrapping the rider that prevents the Justice Department from using its funds to interfere in the implementation of medical cannabis programs in states and territories. President Donald Trump and President Barack Obama each called for ending the policy as part of their budget proposals, but Congress has consistently upheld it since it was first enacted in 2014.
Biden’s budget request also includes an estimated $15 million in funding to support industrial hemp production for 2023 and proposes to continue longstanding riders protecting state programs from federal intervention. However, advocates are disappointed that Biden has failed to keep his word on marijuana-related campaign promises, particularly with regards to Washington, D.C.