Latest congressional spending bill blocks D.C. marijuana legalization

On Tuesday, Senate Democrats and House Republicans reached a deal on a spending bill that prevents the District from using federal funding to legalize marijuana.

The new bill comes as a response to Initiative 71, which passed with 69.4 percent of the vote. Initiative 71 was intended to make it legal for D.C. residents to possess up to two ounces of marijuana for personal use, grow up to six cannabis plants, and to give up one ounce to another adult.

However, due to the new spending bill, this, and any effort of city lawmakers to develop a regulatory structure for the legal sale and/or taxation of the drug, will not be allowed. Additionally, the language of the spending rider on the new deal might make punishments for possession more severe than they are now.

“It’s bad enough that they were setting their sights on legalization,” D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson said to The Washington Post, “But for them to go further and undo decriminalization—it’s irrational.”

According to the Constitution, Congress has the ability to oversee the implementation of any and all measures in Washington D.C., despite the fact that D.C. is not granted a voting member of the House or the Senate. Similar laws in Oregon and Alaska have seen no scrutiny.

This is not the first time Congress has used this power to prohibit the district from honoring its voters decisions on marijuana. According to the Post, Congressional Republicans have previously used a spending “rider” to prevent the district from implementing a voter-initiative in favor of the sale of medical marijuana.

“It is disheartening and frustrating to learn that once again the District of Columbia is being used as a political pawn by the Congress,” D.C. Council Member David Grosso, who helped write Initiative 71, said about the new spending bill. “It’s uninformed paternalistic meddling.”

Indeed as Vox has previously reported, many supporters of legalization have argued that it would provide benefits for the District, including increased tax revenues, and a decrease in racially-biased arrest and incarceration rates for marijuana possession.

Activists in favor of legalization took to the streets outside of the Department of Justice yesterday, joining the many who were in protest of the excessive police violence after two grand juries failed to indict in the cases of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.

“This issue is directly related to the national conversation that’s going on about policing and race relations,” said Adam Eidinger of D.C. Cannabis Campaign to NBCWashington. “To think that overturning an election is going to help that conversation is completely wrong.”

Photo: Ron Cogswell via flickr

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