Marijuana

How Will Congress Respond to Marijuana Legalization in D.C.?

The prospect of legal cannabis in the nation's capital dramatically signals the ongoing collapse of the 77-year-old ban on a much-maligned plant.

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Of the three jurisdictions where voters approved marijuana legalization last week, Washington, D.C., is the smallest but the most symbolically potent. The prospect of legal marijuana in the nation's capital dramatically signals the ongoing collapse of the 77-year-old ban on a much-maligned plant.

The passage of Initiative 71, which voters backed by a margin of more than 2 to 1, presents a challenge to the Republicans who will soon control both houses of Congress. Will they respect democracy and local control, or will they insist that Washingtonians toe a prohibitionist line that is steadily disappearing?

Initiative 71 allows adults 21 or older to possess two ounces or less of marijuana, grow up to six plants at home, and transfer up to an ounce at a time to other adults "without remuneration." It does not authorize commercial production and distribution, but the D.C. Council is considering legislation that would. "I see no reason why we wouldn't follow a regime similar to how we regulate and tax alcohol," incoming Mayor Muriel Bowser said last week.

The initiative does not take effect until after D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson submits it to Congress for review. Congress then has either 30 or 60 days (a matter of dispute) to pass a joint resolution overriding the initiative; if it fails to do so, the initiative becomes law.

Congress also can stop legalization by barring the D.C. Council from spending money to implement Initiative 71. For more than a decade, legislators used that technique to block a medical marijuana initiative that voters approved in 1998.

Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.), who unsuccessfully tried to prevent the D.C. Council from decriminalizing marijuana possession earlier this year, told The Washington Post he will "consider using all resources available to a member of Congress" to stop legalization. He might have more luck this time, since his earlier amendment was approved by the House but not the Senate, which will soon have a Republican majority.

Then again, the House last May approved an amendment introduced by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) that was aimed at stopping the federal government from undermining medical marijuana laws. The amendment, which attracted votes from 49 Republicans in addition to 170 Democrats, explicitly applied to D.C. as well as the 23 states that let patients use marijuana for symptom relief.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who is expected to chair a key committee that oversees the District, believes Congress should respect the will of the voters who approved Initiative 71. "I think there should be a certain amount of discretion for both states and territories and the District," Paul told reporters on Election Day. "I'm not for having the federal government get involved. I really haven't taken a stand on…the actual legalization…but I'm against the federal government telling them they can't."

The D.C. Cannabis Campaign, which backed Initiative 71, hopes that even Republicans who still associate marijuana with the 1960s counterculture will see the merits of local autonomy. "What we want is for Phil Mendelson to transfer the initiative when the new Congress is seated," says Nikolas Schiller, the campaign's director of communications. "We believe that a new Republican Congress will not interfere with something that deals solely with personal liberties."

Principles aside, there are sound political reasons for Republicans to avoid defining themselves as pot prohibitionists. Several recent polls indicate that most Americans favor legalization, and support is especially strong among younger voters. Last year a Gallup survey found that retirees were the only age group in which most people still supported prohibition.

"With marijuana legal in the federal government's backyard," says Tom Angel of the antiprohibitionist group Marijuana Majority, "it's going to be increasingly difficult for national politicians to continue ignoring the growing majority of voters who want to end prohibition. I've been saying for a while that 2016 presidential candidates need to start courting the cannabis constituency, and now the road to the White House quite literally travels through legal marijuana territory."

© Copyright 2014 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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  1. Will they respect democracy and local control, or will they insist that Washingtonians toe a prohibitionist line that is steadily disappearing?

    DC voters are all Democrat. The GOP isn’t going to waste time wooing voters it will never get.

    1. Furthermore, they don’t actually have a vote. However, how they get treated by Congress is going to be some kind of election issue with the folks back home. What KIND of election issue, and how important a one, are questions that the Politician are going to have to answer for themselves.

      IF (repeat IF) the meddlers in Congress (in both parties) keep their noses out of the Districts business on this issue, it will be something of a first.

    2. Marijuana legalization is a decent way to have younger (sorta) libertarian voters to at least take a look at the party. Paul seems to get that.

      That said, I can see the prohibitionist reactionaries pushing through a joint resolution blabbering nonsensically about “gateway drugs”, “corrupting American culture”, etc.

  2. “…2016 presidential candidates need to start courting the cannabis constituency, and now the road to the White House quite literally travels through legal marijuana territory.”

    Good. There goes Bobby ‘not on my watch’ Jindal’s chances.

    My intuition tells me that of all the names being tossed about the one who has the best chances of getting into the white house is Rand Paul. Plus, he is the only one who isn’t completely awful.

    1. Psst. You’re suppose to pass it to the left now.

      Just kidding. I hope RP gets the nod.

      1. This is a very convenient position for him, as chair of that committee. Almost gift-wrapped.

        1. Exactly. Looks like I’m voting in the Republican presidential primaries! 🙂

  3. Congress also can stop legalization by barring the D.C. Council from spending money to implement Initiative 71.

    Can anyone explain to me how not prosecuting people would require spending?

    1. They have to give up on all the sweet loot from Marijunana-related asset forfeitures.

      1. *after all, that would require re-training the MPD, and defending a lot of lawsuits when they illegally keep doing what they’ve been doing despite training, etc, etc…

        1. Just offer them joints to calm them down. It’ll be fine.

      2. Oh, jeez, what was I thinking? Of course, not taking is giving.

        1. When you can walk through a perpetrator’s home, Grasshopper, and leave nothing behind – then you will have learned.

          /Kwai Chang Caine’s Master

          1. +1 Bruce Lee

            I recently called a 20something ‘Grasshopper’ while explaining to them what money is. They had no clue what the reference was.

            I explained. They looked up Kung Fu on some TV channel that shows old stuff. Now they are addicted to watching old Kung Fu shows.

  4. We’re talking about a clear distinction between stated goals and revealed goals. We’re also talking about the Party of Stupid.

    1. They should smoke as much a possible, order pizza and shut up for the next 20 years.

  5. Original headline: ” Jacob Sullum on Marijuana in DC” was interesting. Now, not so much.

  6. Let’s see how small gvt, individual, and states rights they are. ( Yes, DC isn’t a state but to use Fed law to stifle what the people chose via an election, pretty much ends any claim that they meant what they said. )

  7. Let’s see how small gvt, individual, and states rights they are. ( Yes, DC isn’t a state but to use Fed law to stifle what the people chose via an election, pretty much ends any claim that they meant what they said. )

    1. And it passed with 69% of the vote. I mean come on!

  8. All I know is that this will be a great opportunity for the Republicans to do something stupid.

  9. Drug legalization is where Republicans show their statist side. San Diego County – when run by “small government” Republicans and against the wishes of the vast majority of its citizens – sued the State of California, arguing that it has a responsibility to enforce federal law over state law with regards to medical marijuana. Essentially, local police should be federal agents. Fortunately, no court took that argument seriously.

  10. “Congress also can stop legalization by barring the D.C. Council from spending money to implement Initiative 71.”

    The Golden Rule: the man with gold makes the rules

  11. Congress does not have absolute rule over the District. Their actions can still be vetoed by the President and the R’s will probably not be able to get the super majority required to override him. Obama has already told Congress that he supports DC’s right to self-determination on this issue, similar to Rand Paul.

    Slipping a few paragraphs into an otherwise unrelated is also problematic because Obama would still have to sign that bill, and the likelihood of this Congress passing any bill that Obama will approve of is quite small. In this case he would have to want a bill that the Congress also wants more than he wants to protect DC’s voters. Remember, the President and the R’s in Congress pretty much never ever ever agree on any bills on any subject whatsoever. This is the beauty of gridlock!

    But even if there were a bill that Congress was willing to pass and Obama was willing to sign, getting language into that bill that interferes with the District’s self-rule will have to get past the Senate. Rand Paul has already voiced support for respecting the voters in this matter and he is the ranking member of the committee that has Senate oversight over DC affairs. (Harris is in the House where he sits on a different committee with similar duties.)

    DC is of course the world capital of wheeling and dealing so there is no way to predict for certain where the cards will eventually fall, but I would not place any serious bets on the prohibitionists winning this one.

  12. “Republicans who still associate marijuana with the 1960s counterculture”

    Wow. Those ancient dinosaurs are still fighting the hippies of a half-century ago. – Steer those decrepit beasts toward the tar pits.

  13. Should be called the Marion Barry statute.

  14. “Congress then has either 30 or 60 days (a matter of dispute) to pass a joint…”

    Yeah, I couldn’t resist taking that out of context.

  15. 318,968,000 people live in the US
    $51,000,000,000 spent each year on the war on drugs in the US
    $159,890.00 per person per year

    We need to legalize this nationally.
    Time for our government to listen and follow the direction the people have given. This is a saving grace for our national economy in many ways beyond the dollars above. This will create jobs, tax revenue, increase industry, and much more!

    Our country needs fast action and we shouldn’t have to wait till the next election to remove this from the schedule 1 list.

    1. The per person amount was typed incorrectly. Can’t seem to edit it. It should read $159.89

  16. Cannabis shall be removed from CSA “Schedule I”, and placed in “CSA Subchapter I, Part A, ?802. Definitions, paragraph (6)”, appended to the list “distilled spirits, wine, malt beverages, or tobacco”, where it will STILL be the least-toxic in the category [by several orders of magnitude].

    In other words, EXEMPT from CSA scheduling.

    Anything short of THAT is absolutely UNACCEPTABLE.

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