Budget autonomy plaintiff Phil Mendelson
Budget autonomy plaintiff Phil Mendelson

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It turns out that legalizing marijuana was the easy part. At today D.C. Council’s breakfast, not-so-mellow councilmembers argued over whether they should provide a congressional committee with the names of Council staffers who worked on legalization.

The Council is grappling with a letter from Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican who wants a list of staffers who worked on matters related to legalization and their salaries. The not-so-veiled threat in Chaffetz’s letter is that staffers and councilmembers could be prosecuted for breaking the Anti-Deficiency Act, which prohibits spending unappropriated federal money.

Chaffetz and his Republican cohort cooled down on their threats after they realized that they have no prosecutorial powers, and U.S. Attorney Ron Machen has shown no interest in pursuing charges.

That hasn’t stopped the Council from fretting over Chaffetz’s demand. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson favors naming any councilmembers and staffers who were on the dais during an informal legalization meeting last month, including a passage in the letter saying that both District Attorney General Karl Racine and Council general counsel David Zvenyach thought the meeting was legal.

Despite insisting that he “didn’t think this was a good idea from the beginning,” Ward 2 Councilmember and frequent Mendelson foil Jack Evans pushed for the Council to either provide no names, or limit the list to just councilmembers.

“If you want to do your civil disobedience, then carry it all the way through,” Evans told Mendelson.

Chaffetz’s office didn’t respond to an immediate request for comment.

Ward 7 Councilmember Yvette Alexander, who opposed efforts to decriminalize marijuana, urged her colleagues to “forget Congress.” At-large Councilmember Vincent Orange, noting that the Republican congressmen couldn’t prosecute anyone anyway, didn’t see any risk from sending the names.

As the meeting went on, the councilmembers sounded more and more like conspirators whose planned heist had gone terribly wrong. Mendelson warned that refusing to provide names to Chaffetz’s committee would “piss off Congress.”

“That’s how we got the letter,” Evans shot back. “You pissed them off.”

“We all did,” at-large Councilmember David Grosso said.

While the Council had their lawyers’ support on Initiative 71, they don’t appear to similar grounding if they refuse to provide staffers’ names. At the breakfast, Zvenyach said Congress was entitled to the names and salaries. For now, the Council held off on deciding about any letter back to Chaffetz, pending more clarification on what the Utah congressman wants.

In less contentious drug news, Alexander related a story about a new era of weed. According to Alexander, a man who had his marijuana taken by police headed to the Metropolitan Police Department’s Sixth District headquarters on 42nd Street NE to get it back.

“Dude said, ‘I want my weed back,'” Alexander said.  “The police gave him his weed back. He knew the law.”

 Photo by Darrow Montgomery