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DC May Not Get to Legalize Marijuana After All

  • Dec 12, 2014 | Gail Cole

 Federal lawmakers derail DC's plans to legalize marijuana possession.

The people of Washington DC voted to legalize possession of marijuana for personal use on November 4. Yet because the District is home to the federal government, Initiative 71 must also obtain the approval of federal lawmakers. And guess what? They said no.

City officials are stunned. Possession of pot was expected to encounter roadblocks once the Republicans officially take control of the House and Senate next month. No one thought a Democrat controlled Senate would bargain for marijuana restriction. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) said, “I can’t believe they did this” (Washington Post).

City officials are not the only ones to express shock and dismay. Democratic Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC’s nonvoting House member) said, “I certainly don’t know why Democrats would agree to block legalization while we still control the White House, we still control the Senate – and who knows, they may even need Democratic votes to pass this.”

Kimberly Perry of D.C. Vote took it a step further, calling the Congressional move to overturn Initiative 71 “an outrage [that] offends the fundamental principles of democracy.” She continued, “If reports are true, members of Congress from both parties bargained away the right of the people of the District of Columbia and in doing so compromised the core democratic values of the United States.” D.C. Vote is an educational and advocacy organization dedicated to securing full voting representation for District residents.

A special provision in the $1.1 trillion spending bill approved Tuesday night "prohibits both federal and local funds from being used to implement a referendum legalizing recreational marijuana use in the District." This stems in part from the United States Drug Enforcement Administration classification of marijuana as a Schedule I drug, “the most dangerous class of drugs with a high potential for abuse and potentially severe psychological and/or physical dependence.”

Representative Andy Harris (R-MD), a vocal opponent of legalization, was unequivocal. “The fact is the Constitution gives Congress the ultimate oversight about what happens in the federal district,” Harris said.

Adding insult to injury, Congress may attempt to roll back a law eliminating criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana, which Mayor Vincent Gray (D) approved last spring. However, DC city attorneys said Wednesday they feel confident that won't happen.

The White House has said President Obama will approve the $1.1 trillion spending bill. In the meantime, protests against overturning Initiative 71 have begun.

photo credit: AGrinberg via photopin cc

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Gail Cole
Avalara Author
Gail Cole
Gail Cole
Avalara Author Gail Cole
Gail began researching and writing about sales tax in 2012 and has been fascinated with it ever since. She has a penchant for uncovering unusual tax facts, and endeavors to make complex sales tax laws more digestible for both experts and laypeople.