US House Subcommittee OKs Spending Bill with Key Cannabis Protections

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On Monday, after a brief meeting to discuss government spending in 2020, the House Financial Services and General Government subcommittee gave an early green light to a spending bill that includes two small but significant cannabis changes.

The first, Section 633, would prevent the Treasury from spending money to penalize financial institutions for providing “financial services” to state-legal cannabis businesses.

It’s a big change, if largely a symbolic one. The section is essentially a watered-down version of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, which would provide more explicit legal protections to financial institutions serving the cannabis industry. But since Section 633 only goes so far, some major banks likely won’t act upon it.

The second, perhaps more tangible change: Removing the infamous Section 809, also known as the “Harris rider.” First introduced in 2014 by Andy Harris, a Maryland Republican, the section prevents the District of Columbia from spending to enact its own cannabis reforms. (You can read the section in last year’s spending bill here.)

Voters in D.C. legalized medical cannabis in 1998 and adult use cannabis in 2014, but Congress has used acts like the Harris rider to stymie local cannabis-reform efforts. Right now, D.C. allows possession and home cultivation but not sale of cannabis; Mayor Muriel Bowser has called the situation “untenable.” Last month, she introduced a proposal to legalize and tax cannabis businesses. But its success largely depends on the next spending bill.

The hearing on Monday lasted for less than 30 minutes. As a sign of how bipartisan cannabis reform has become, there was barely any mention of cannabis on either side of the aisle.

In an opening statement, Mike Quigley, an Illinois Democrat and chairman of the Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government, said he was “proud” to remove several “longstanding” and “harmful” spending rules, “including those that dictate to the District of Columbia how to manage its own affairs or spend its own money.”

Nita Lowey, a New York Democrat and chairwoman of the main appropriations committee, said it was “noteworthy” that this year’s spending bill removes “objectionable riders from previous years that threaten home rule for the District of Columbia.” She cited cannabis, needle exchanges, and abortion.

Spending bills have been used for cannabis protections before: Dana Rohrabacher, a former Republican representative from California and an outspoken advocate for cannabis reform, for years championed amendments preventing the Department of Justice from spending money to interfere with state cannabis laws.

The spending bill has a ways to go, and still must head to the US House Committee on Appropriations.

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