Democrats may have control of Congress, but Washington, D.C. will not regain control of its weed industry this year.
The District will have to wait at least one more year before it can tax and regulate an adult-use cannabis market, despite hopes that Democratic majorities in the House and Senate would lift the limitations placed on the city’s cannabis industry.
A rider which prevents D.C. from establishing a regulated cannabis market — commonly known as the Harris Rider — was left in the omnibus funding bill, H.R. 2471, released on Wednesday. It came as a surprise to some advocates, because it was not included in funding packages put forth by the House and Senate. However, President Joe Biden’s proposed budget did include the controversial provision.
D.C. residents voted to legalize cannabis in 2014, and the Harris Rider was passed the year after, limiting the District’s power to regulate the newly legal product. The rider was introduced by Maryland GOP Rep. Andy Harris.
As it stands, D.C. residents are allowed to consume, grow and “gift” cannabis products. That gifting allowance created a grey market where shops sell things like tea or t-shirts — and pair each sale with a “gift” of cannabis.
D.C.’s City Council wants to regulate and tax the industry, and business owners want more security that their businesses are not going to be shut down. D.C. lawmakers are currently looking for a workaround, with both the City Council and Mayor Muriel Bowser proposing legislation that could make the existing gray market fully legal.
The omnibus spending package also failed to extend protections for state legal markets. Since 2014, there’s been a prohibition on spending federal dollars to crack down on state medical markets. The budget package that passed the House extended those protections to adult-use markets, but that provision didn’t make the final bill.
Democratic leaders have vowed to eliminate federal marijuana penalties, boosting hopes in the $25 billion industry. But so far Congress hasn’t done anything to loosen restrictions despite the fact that 37 states now have legal medical or recreational markets.