The Senate Appropriations Committee has again advanced a spending bill that includes a provision blocking Washington, D.C. from using its own local tax dollars to implement a legal marijuana sales program.
The panel voted in favor of the Financial Services and General Government (FSGG) funding legislation for Fiscal Year 2020 during a hearing on Thursday, with two senators voicing opposition to the D.C. rider. Earlier in the meeting, the committee approved a separate spending bill that provides funding to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for hemp and CBD programs.
Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) spoke out against the Senate’s continued efforts to dictate how D.C. spends its own money, emphasizing that voters in the district overwhelmingly approved adult-use cannabis legalization in 2014 through a ballot measure, yet the local government is unable to create a commercial marijuana market for consumers.
“You may like [cannabis legalization] or not like that, but the reality is it’s legal in the District of Columbia so what the mayor and the county council want to do is regulate it,” he said. “Right now it’s legal but it’s lawless. There are no regulations.”
Van Hollen said it’s the “bad guys” who benefit from the lack of a regulated marijuana program by being able to sell product on the illegal market, adding that it’s “the people who want to take advantage of people who have free rein.” He added that D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) sent him a letter expressing frustration over the restriction.
“Mr. Chairman, I know there’s a further discussion going on,” he said. “I’m not going to support this bill at the end of the day if we end up usurping the powers of the people of the District of Columbia to do what they want with their own money. We have got to stop acting like we run the business of the city and I hope this is the last time we will see provisions that usurp the powers of the people of the District of Columbia.”
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), ranking member on the committee, similarly complained about the provision.
“I think every single Democrat and Republican on this committee would oppose a provision in these bills or any other bills that told their specific state—tell Louisiana what they must do, just Louisiana, or just New Hampshire or any other state,” he said. “I have railed against this idea of this Congress trying to micromanage the District of Columbia.”
Leahy added that while he’s disagreed with certain decisions made by the district’s government unrelated to cannabis, it’s important that they’re able to make their own choices.
The House-passed version of this spending bill that was approved earlier this year omitted the D.C. rider without objection from its traditional sponsor, Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), who said he didn’t attempt to push it as an amendment because his party is “not in charge anymore” in the chamber. That legislation also included a provision protecting banks that service marijuana businesses from being penalized by federal financial regulators.
Bowser, the D.C. mayor, filed a marijuana legalization bill with the District Council earlier this year in anticipation of the rider’s removal under the Democratic-controlled House. If the Senate approves its version of the spending legislation containing the D.C. block, it will be up to a bicameral conference committee to decide what is included in the final package sent to President Trump’s desk.