Unlikely that Congress will block D.C. marijuana legalization
On November 4, Initiative 71 passed with massive support. Nearly 70 percent of voters were in favor of marijuana legalization in the District. Initiative 71 legalizes possession of up to two ounces in D.C. for adults age 21 and older. It also permits limited at-home cultivation for city residents of up to three mature plants.
D.C. does not have states’ rights, so local laws are reviewed by Congress. While Congress rarely, if ever, blocks D.C. laws, they have the power to, and legalization supporters worried that this new law would prompt Congress into action.
It appears, however, that most Republicans are uninterested in interfering. Amidst the crises in Iraq and Syria and possible presidential bids, many GOP congressmen are focused elsewhere.
“To be honest, that’s pretty far down my list of priorities,” Senator Lindsey O. Graham (R-SC) said of Initiative 71.
Some Republicans have even demonstrated support for legalization. One of the most ardent conservative voices calling for governmental reform in regard to cannabis policies, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), joined with Democrats last Thursday to encourage Congress to allow the marijuana initiative to pass in D.C.
Rohrabacher has not only tried to appeal to Republican colleagues on a philosophical level for legalization, but in a pragmatic sense as well.
“Just in the practical politics, let’s understand that there’s been a big change—a sea change—in public attitude towards this, because people realize what a total waste of money it is compared to other priorities,” he said.
D.C. Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, who was re-elected this month, has announced that anyone who tries to stand in the way of legalization in the District should be prepared to “get the fight of their lives.”
“The people have spoken and D.C. residents can rest assured that when a mandate comes directly from the people, they haven’t seen a fight like the fight I’m preparing to make against Rep. Andy Harris and any other Member of Congress who attempts to undo our democratic process,” Norton said in a press release.
The 30-to-60-day review period for the initiative will begin as soon as it is codified into law and sent by D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) to the Capitol for review. It is anticipated that the review process will begin when the new Congress is seated in early January.
Marijuana legalization will become a law as long as Congress abstains from blocking it during that time frame. A block seems highly unlikely as it has only happened three times in the past 40 years. It also would require not only both chambers of Congress to pass a bill against it, but the president would then need to sign off on the congressional measure preventing the law.
Photo: DC Cannabis Culture via flickr