Congress attempts to block marijuana legalization in DC with spending bill
In November, voters overwhelming voted for legalizing marijuana in the nation’s capital. Now new spending legislation by Congress is being using to subvert that vote.
Rather than outright vote down marijuana legalization, which would force representatives to take a recorded vote on the matter, they’ve opted to instead de-fund the initiative.
The bill, which will fund the federal government far into 2015, has language which prevents the city from spending any money on enacting its newly passed cannabis legalization law.
While this does not fully stop the city from implementing legalized marijuana, city leaders have stated that they will not allow the law to go into effect if they cannot set up a regulatory framework and body for growing and selling the plant.
If the law were to go into effect without the city able to spend any money on it, marijuana would be treated essentially as a vegetable grown in a home garden, completely unregulated.
The initiative passed by voters would allow possession of up to 2 ounces of cannabis or up to three mature plants for personal use. It doesn’t address the legal sale of marijuana, leaving it to the D.C. Council to pass a tax-and-regulation framework.
If the spending bill makes it completely through congress, gets signed by President Obama, and becomes law, it would last until September 2015, which is how far into the future the bill funds the federal government. This means that the nation’s capital would have to wait until at least then to implement regulation on the matter.
While there is some pushback on the bill, even if it does not pass right now, it very well could pass once Republicans take full control of Congress early next year.
Rep. Andy Harris, a Maryland Republican and an anesthesiologist, tried unsuccessfully to block the decriminalization law, arguing that it would make pot more accessible to young people, whose developing brains can be harmed by the drug.
“I am glad Congress is going to, in a bipartisan way, uphold federal law to protect our youth by preventing legalization in Washington, D.C.,” Harris said in a statement Wednesday.
Democratic Mayor-elect Muriel Bowser, who takes office in January, has said that she does not want unregulated legal marijuana in the city because of the implications for law enforcement, but on Wednesday, she said she would “respect the will of the people of the District of Columbia” if Congress took taxation and regulation off the table.
Drug-policy advocates did find something to cheer in the spending bill, noting that it protects states with legal medical marijuana, including the District. Congress previously used an amendment to a spending bill to ban medical marijuana in the District for more than 10 years after voters approved it.