In recent news from the marijuana legalization battlefield, we found out that President Barack Obama opposes a measure that would stop the District of Columbia from legalizing marijuana. However (and this is a big however) he still plans to sign a major spending bill that would do just that. Under a spending deal to fund the federal government through next September, the District will be prohibited from legalizing marijuana for much of next year.
What do Republicans have to do with it?
According to White House spokesman Josh Earnest, despite reservations, Obama is set to sign legislation to fund nearly the entire government through the end of the budget year Sept. 30. If you remember, the District’s Initiative 71 would allow possession of up to 2 ounces of marijuana or up to three mature plants for personal use. If the spending bill were approved, all that would be on hold until at least next September, when it is set to expire.
So yes, earlier in November District voters approved the initiative that legalizes possession of small amounts of marijuana. Rather than trying to down vote the pot initiative, which Congress has the power to do, Republicans decided to place a rather significant language in an essential spending bill that would prevent the city from spending any money to actually enact it. Whether this will actually happen or not is a matter of debate, however, the sneaky way this provision was passed suggests that marijuana prohibitionists are in a weaker position than ever before. The rider, which was infamously introduced by Rep. Andy Harris, says that “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, use, or distribution of any schedule I substance.” And schedule I substance, besides heroin and cocaine, is marijuana.
A political pawn by the Congress
Don’t go away just yet, because with Republicans set to take control of the chamber in January, this suggests that the will of D.C. voters, who approved marijuana legalization, may be suspended indefinitely. “It’s totally disturbing; it’s entirely undemocratic,” said Adam Eidinger, who led the efforts to collect over 57,000 signatures this year to put the measure before D.C. voters. Naturally, the development shocked marijuana legalization advocates, who were hoping that the measure would be at least somehow protected while Democrats still controlled the Senate.
D.C. Council member David Grosso (I-At Large), the author of a bill for the District that would authorize licensing and regulation of marijuana growers and retailers, issued a press release in response to the surprising deal, where he expressed his feelings about the issue saying “It is disheartening and frustrating to learn that once again the District of Columbia is being used as a political pawn by the Congress. 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.”