Obama Budget Would Allow Legal Marijuana Sales in D.C.

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But President Also Proposes Letting DEA Interfere With State Medical Marijuana Laws

President Obama’s federal budget would allow Washington, D.C. to legalize and tax marijuana sales.

The Fiscal Year 2017 proposal, released on Tuesday, would remove a prohibition in current law on the District of Columbia spending its own money to regulate cannabis commerce.

Possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana is already legal in the nation’s capital under a voter initiative passed in 2014, but local officials’ efforts to enact further reforms have been stymied by Congressional interference.

The White House budget’s language is nearly identical to current law, except that by adding the word “Federal” it makes it clear the city could spend its own local funds as it sees fit:

Obama Budget Language

SEC. 809.

(a) None of the Federal funds contained in this Act may be used to enact or carry out any law, rule, or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce penalties associated with the possession, use, or distribution of any schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 801 et seq.) or any tetrahydrocannabinols derivative.

(b) None of the Federal funds contained in this Act may be used to enact any law, rule, or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce penalties associated with the possession, use, or distribution of any schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 801 et seq.) or any tetrahydrocannabinols derivative for recreational purposes.

Current Law

SEC. 809.

(a) None of the Federal funds contained in this Act may be used to enact or carry out any law, rule, or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce penalties associated with the possession, use, or distribution of any schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 801 et seq.) or any tetrahydrocannabinols derivative.

(b) None of the funds contained in this Act may be used to enact any law, rule, or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce penalties associated with the possession, use, or distribution of any schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 801 et seq.) or any tetrahydrocannabinols derivative for recreational purposes.

In another provision of interest to marijuana policy reformers, the president is also proposing to delete a section of current law that prevents the Justice Department from interfering with the implementation of state medical marijuana laws. The House of Representatives has approved the measure on strong bipartisan votes two years in a row. But while the president has been generally supportive of giving states room to enact their own marijuana policies without federal interference, his budget proposal would remove the prohibition on federal law enforcement agencies from spending money to intervene in medical cannabis programs when they feel it is warranted.

The president’s budget represents the first step in what will be a months-long process to determine the federal government’s spending for next year. From here, Congress has most of the decision-making power, and it remains to be seen whether the legislative branch will agree to the administration’s D.C. marijuana proposal.

Obama also proposed the change in his Fiscal Year 2016 budget, but lawmakers reinserted the ban in the omnibus appropriations bill that the president signed into law in December.

However, even if Congress doesn’t agree to the language letting D.C. use FY2017 appropriated funds to regulate marijuana sales, there is still one move local officials have available to them. Advocates have pointed out that D.C. has a pool of emergency funds, called a contingency reserve, which are not restricted by the federal budget provisions. D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine is reportedly preparing a memo about using that money to legalize cannabis commerce.

About Author

Tom Angell covers policy and politics for Marijuana.com. Separately, he serves as chairman of the nonprofit organization Marijuana Majority, which works to ensure that elected officials and the media treat legalization as a serious, mainstream issue. Marijuana Majority led the effort to get the U.S. Conference of Mayors to pass a resolution telling the federal government to respect state marijuana laws, and orchestrated the first-ever endorsement for marijuana legalization by a U.S. Supreme Court justice (John Paul Stevens). Previously, Tom worked for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. (All organizations are listed for identification purposes only.)