Washington, D.C. Council President Phil Mendelson has stated that he will submit Initiative 71, D.C.’s voter-approved initiative to legalize marijuana possession, home cultivation, and sharing, to Congress early next month.
The initiative, as well as Mendelson’s decision to transmit it to Congress, have been the subject of recent controversy following the passage Rep. Andy Harris’s (R-Md.) rider aimed at reversing the initiative. Once Mendelson transmits it, however, Congress will have 30 legislative days to reject the measure; otherwise, it will go into effect automatically.
“The duty to transmit is not discretionary in my view,” Mendelson said. He responded to insinuation that the decision to transmit the measure to Congress was provocative in an interview with Roll Call:
“I’m not trying to defy anybody. I’m responsible for transmitting the initiative. I have a very clear requirement in the Home Rule Act to transmit the legislation. Congress has the ability to step in when that legislation is transmitted, so I don’t see anything that’s provocative here and I certainly don’t intend any provocation.”
Harris and his co-author, Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) intend to reverse the initiative using their spending bill rider, which states 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.” But the legal case for the rider taking precedence over the will of D.C. voters is feeble: the rider refers specifically to enacting laws, not carrying them out (the language was changed to avoid confusion about drug laws currently in effect). According to D.C.’s congressional delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, Initiative 71 “was enacted when it was approved overwhelmingly by voters in November.”
Harris took advantage of the cover provided by the spending bill to avoid dealing not only with Democrats who support more legislative freedom for D.C. voters, but also with federalist Republicans wary of forcing marijuana prohibition on districts that vote green. The spending bill contains another rider, introduced by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), which prevents the Justice Department from using any money to stop D.C. and the states from “implementing… laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.”
Harris and Pitts argue that Congress has the authority to control legislative policy in the District of Columbia, and that legalization will lead to increased drug use among teens and “legal chaos” there. But D.C. Council Member David Grosso, author of a bill that would authorize licensing and regulation of marijuana growers and retailers, instead sees Harris’s rider as yet another example of the District “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.”
Photo Credit: www.GlynLowe.com
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