The Congressional spending bill released yesterday night includes a provision to prevent the implementation of Initiative 71, which would legalize marijuana in the District.
“None of the funds contained in this Act may be used to enact any law, rule or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce penalties associated with the possession, Controlled Substances Act or any tetrahydrocannabinols derivative for recreational purposes,” reads the omnibus spending bill.
The provision, known as a “rider,” was inserted into the bill by Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) and, though it does not specifically mention the District, it does prohibit the usage of any federal or local funds to legalize marijuana. Congress authorizes D.C.’s budget.
“The fact is the Constitution gives Congress the ultimate oversight about what happens in the federal district,” Harris said to The Washington Post.
Initiative 71 passed with 69.4 percent support in the November election. The initiative permitted adults over the age of 21 to possess up to two ounces of marijuana, grow up to six marijuana plants and give freely one ounce of the substance to other adults. The language in the spending bill could also erase marijuana decriminalization, which occurred in D.C. in June following congressional authorization.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), the District’s non-voting representative in Congress, promised to offer an amendment later today striking the rider. She also noted that the language in the spending bill did not necessarily prevent marijuana legalization.
“The omnibus rider does not block D.C. from ‘carrying out’ enacted marijuana policies. D.C.’s Initiative 71, it can be argued, was enacted when it was approved overwhelmingly by voters in November,” Norton said in a press release. “Therefore, it can be argued that the legalization of small amounts of marijuana can proceed.”
The potential interference of Congress in D.C. affairs drew virulent criticism from District officials and advocates.
“It is disheartening and frustrating to learn that once again the District of Columbia is being used as a political pawn by the Congress,” Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large) said in a press release. “To undermine the vote of the people — taxpayers — does not foster or promote the ‘limited government’ stance House Republicans claim they stand for; it’s uninformed paternalistic meddling.”
Negotiations behind the scenes were ongoing until the last minute with rumors released yesterday that the Democratic and Republican leadership had reached a deal to permit legalization under Initiative 71 but to prevent the enactment of a sales-and-tax system in the future.
D.C. Cannabis Campaign Chairman Adam Eidinger, who submitted Initiative 71, said yesterday to The Hoya that protests were planned if legalization was blocked entirely.
“We’re calling for a protest [Wednesday] at the Department of Justice at 5 p.m.,” Eidinger said. “If the language actually overturns the initiative, we’ll have a huge protest, walking from there to the Capitol.”