Key House Republicans are mounting a serious effort to block the new Washington, D.C. law approved by voters last months to allow the growing and possession of marijuana in the nation’s capital city.
While Oregon and Alaska officials are working to implement the will of voters who decided in the same election to legalize recreational marijuana in the two states, the decision by D.C. voters may not carry the same weight.
According to several media accounts, House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers, who is negotiating ther terms of a catch-all spending bill, is demanding that it include a provision blocking D.C. from using local funds to implement the new marijuana law. Congress has broader authority over the District of Columbia and lawmakers for several years prevented the district from allowing medical marijuana.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., one of the House’s chief supporters of legalizing marijuana, has joined with D.C.’s non-voting House delegate, Democrat Eleanor Holmes Norton, in urging Congress not to interfere with the law.
“This is not where America is going,” Blumenauer said Thursday, arguing that the GOP move is “fraught with danger for them” because it will alienate libertarian and states-rights members of their coalition.
Blumenauer noted that supporters of loosening federal restrictions have recently won a string of votes in the House, including on allowing industrial hemp production and keeping the Department of Justice from interfering with state medical marijuana laws. He said he didn’t have any trouble finding six Republicans to co-sponsor a bill he introduced that would allow Veterans Administration medical providers to consider requests by their patients for access to medical marijuana.
The omnibus appropriations bill is needed to keep the government running, making it an attractive vehicle for legislative riders. Rogers, a Kentucky Republican, is a strong opponent of legalizing marijuana and wants to get the D.C. language in the spending bill, said Michael Collins, a lobbyist for the Drug Policy Alliance.
Collins said he thinks Rogers will fail because many other Republicans are not keen on taking a strong anti-marijuana stand. In addition, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, needs Democratic votes to pass the spending bill and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-S.F., has reportedly said that part of her price for supporting the bill is that Congress keep its hands off the D.C. marijuana law.
The law approved by Washington, D.C. voters — with a 70 percent yes vote — is different than the legalization measures approved in Oregon and Alaska. The D.C. measure allows residents to possess up to two ounces and to grow up to three mature plants in their homes but does not allow commercial sales.
Even if Congress doesn’t interfere with the law, it’s unclear when it might go into effect. Mayor-elect Muriel Bowser said in a post-election news conference that she wanted to delay legalization until the city to set up a plan for allowing commercial sales and taxation of the drug.
— Jeff Mapes