D.C.'s New Attorney General Says Congress Has Not Blocked Legal Marijuana in the Nation's Capital


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Karl Racine, the newly elected attorney general of Washington, D.C., says a congressional spending restriction aimed at stopping the District from legalizing marijuana does not actually accomplish that. Although the rider will prevent the D.C. Council from licensing and regulating marijuana businesses, Racine says, it cannot nullify Initiative 71, the ballot measure that eliminates penalties for possession, sharing, and home cultivation. That's because the rider applies only to enactment of Initiative 71, which happened the day voters approved it.

"We think Initiative 71 was basically self-enacted, just as the congresswoman does," Racine told The Washington Post, referring to Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District's nonvoting congressional delegate. "We think there's good support for that position, and we're going to support that position." Racine thus agrees with Norton, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, and leading Democrats in the House that Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) made a fatal error when he narrowed his rider so that it barred the District from spending money to "enact" rather than "enact or carry out" marijuana legalization.

Harris claims the amendment, which is part of the omnius spending bill approved by Congress a few weeks ago, "prevents the ultimate enactment of the ballot initiative." But under the District of Columbia Home Rule Act, the initiative takes effect automatically unless Congress passes a joint resolution rejecting it no later than 30 legislative days after Mendelson officially submits it for review, which he plans to do next month. In the unlikely event that Congress passes a resolution and President Obama signs it before the review period expires, the resolution "shall be deemed to have repealed" the initiative, which seems inconsistent with Harris' position that the initiative has not really been enacted yet.