Marijuana.com has learned that Congressional leaders will move to block Washington. D.C.’s voter-approved marijuana legalization measure from taking effect. Sources say that Democrats and Republicans have agreed that a broad spending bill expected to be released today will include language exercising the federal government’s power to prevent the District of Columbia from using its own local money to enact and enforce marijuana reforms.
Despite saying “We believe in home rule” for D.C. at a press conference on Friday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), has reportedly signed off on what is being called a “deal” to let the city continue the policy of decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana, which was enacted by the D.C. Council earlier this year, but block the full legalization measure that voters approved by a 70 percent to 30 percent margin last month.
Marijuana reform advocates say, however, that that’s no real deal at all, since the decriminalization policy that Democrats think they’re protecting has already been enacted and doesn’t cost any money to enforce, so it wouldn’t be even possible for Congress to use the appropriations process to obstruct it at this point.
“Decriminalization is already in effect, so it’s hard to see from a legal perspective how it could get rolled back. The real prize is the legalization measure that D.C. voters passed and the tax and regulate bill that the Council is considering,” said Aaron Houston, a longtime marijuana reform advocate in D.C. who serves as a political strategist for Ghost Group/Weedmaps. “It’s shameful that Democrats would even consider helping Republicans undermine D.C. home rule, and it’s very disappointing that their misunderstanding of the law has led them to believe they’re getting some concession as part of a ‘deal’ that actually just amounts to a few outlier Republicans getting everything they possibly can in this bill to impede the District’s marijuana reforms.” (Disclosure: Weedmaps owns and operates Marijuana.com.)
Some Republicans have been working for months to block marijuana reforms in the District. This summer Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) successfully pushed to include such language into the House-passed version of a narrower spending bill covering D.C. operations, but it faced opposition in the Democratic-controlled Senate. After negotiations on that bill and other appropriations legislation covering various federal departments broke down amidst broader partisan disagreements, the threat of a looming shutdown forced congressional leaders to the bargaining table, resulting in the new omnibus spending measure expected to be released today.
It is unclear whether the bill has the votes to pass, or whether President Obama will sign it into law. In addition to disagreements that are likely to arise about other provisions related to immigration, environmental regulations and insurance, the news about the marijuana legalization block being included could be a sticking point for some.
In July, following the passage of House legislation containing the Harris language, the administration threatened a veto, saying the president “strongly opposes the language in the bill preventing the District from using its own local funds to carry out locally-passed marijuana policies, which again undermines the principles of States’ rights and of District home rule.”
And even though marijuana reform currently tends to get more support from Democratic elected officials than Republican ones, it isn’t strictly a partisan issue. This summer, 49 Republicans joined 170 Democrats in voting to pass a House amendment to stop federal agencies from interfering with state medical marijuana laws. Amendments to allow industrial hemp cultivation and accommodate access to banking services for state-legal marijuana businesses also passed with similar bipartisan margins this year.
Marijuana.com will continue to follow the news on Capitol Hill and bring you developments as they occur.