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They don’t call Muriel Bowser the leader of the “Green Team” for nothing. At a press conference this afternoon, Bowser, backed up by D.C. Council chairman Phil Mendelson and District attorney general Karl Racine, said she’ll go ahead with plans to legalize marijuana in the city tonight in the face of congressional threats.
“Our government is prepared to implement and enforce Initiative 71 in the District of Columbia,” Bowser said.
Republicans like Rep. Jason Chaffetz have claimed that legalizing the drug, which could violate a budget rider aimed at stopping the legalization, would involve the city breaking the federal Anti-Deficiency Act. But today, anti-marijuana Rep. Andy Harris, a Maryland Republican, said the GOP would leave prosecutions of city officials to the Justice Department.
A spokesman for U.S. Attorney Ron Machen said the office is following marijuana developments, but declined to comment further. Bowser says her staff plan to talk to Machen’s later today, but it’s hard to imagine Attorney General Eric Holder‘s Department of Justice pursuing city officials for legalizing marijuana. Nevertheless, Bowser didn’t sound eager to go to jail for potential Anti-Deficiency Act violations.
“I have a lot of things to do here in the District of Columbia,” Bowser said. “Me being in jail wouldn’t be a good thing.”
Barring some future federal intervention, Bowser’s move means that the possession of two ounces of marijuana and the cultivation of six plants per person will be legal at 12:01 a.m. Thursday morning. For now, though, the rider prevents the District from regulating or taxing marijuana sales, which are still illegal. Asked whether she would next try to eliminate the rider to allow for sales, Bowser demurred, saying instead that she was focused on the current fight to legalize cultivation and possession.
Attorney general Karl Racine, police chief Cathy Lanier, D.C. Council chairman Phil Mendelson, and seven other councilmembers joined Bowser at the announcement. Racine confirmed that the Office of the Attorney General holds Bowser’s actions are legal. Mendelson claimed that city officials have no choice but to legalize tomorrow, under the prevailing District government legal theory that the initiative was already enacted when it passed last November.
Not every House member buys into Chaffetz’s argument that the House managed to quash Initiative 71’s enactment. Before Bowser’s press conference, high-ranking House Democrats John Conyers, Nita Lowey, José E. Serrano, and Elijah Cummings issued a statement defending the city’s position.
Despite the feds’ ability to meddle in the District’s budget, Bowser talked tough to her Republican opponents. She started her press conference by asserting that she was “the duly-elected mayor” and went on to accuse Chaffetz of trying to push the city around.
“Bullying the District of Columbia is not what his constituents expect, nor do ours,” Bowser said.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery