D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson is ignoring the “Super City Council.“
Mendelson says he will submit Initiative 71, which would legalize marijuana possession for personal use in D.C., to Congress, arguing that it’s his duty under the Home Rule Charter to do so.
“The duty to transmit is not discretionary in my view,” he said at a press conference today. “There’s no money involved on our part in whether a person commits a crime or not, so I’m not sure what Congress was intending with their language.”
Congress passed a massive spending bill last week to keep the federal government running. Tucked deep within that “cromnibus” legislation is a rider barring D.C. from spending any money to enact Initiative 71—-which D.C. voters overwhelmingly approved in November.
The wording of the bill is ambiguous, and some say D.C. can still legalize marijuana, though it would be prohibited from creating a legal framework to sell and tax it. Others, contrary to Mendelson’s interpretation, say the law means that D.C. cannot spend any money to put this law into effect, even the nominal cash it would cost to transmit the bill to Congress.
Once Mendelson sends the bill to the Hill in January, there will be a 30-day review period during which Congress can decide whether it wants to pass a bill to block the law or quietly let it stay.
The whole attempt to send it to the Hill may run into difficulty, though: Rep. Andy Harris of Maryland, the main lawmaker behind gutting D.C.’s marijuana laws, says the provision in the spending bill unequivocally kills Initiative 71.
“Congressional intent and the legislative language is clear,” Harris wrote in a statement to City Desk last week. “Legalization will not be able to move forward in the District.”
Additional reporting by Will Sommer and Aaron Wiener
Photo by Darrow Montgomery