We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
Voters in the District last month overwhelmingly approved legalizing marijuana. But now lawmakers from the rest of the country have decided that doesn’t matter.
A massive bill to fund most of the federal government for the rest of the fiscal year would block D.C. from implementing the ballot measure, as advocates had feared.
“None of the funds contained in this Act may be used to enact or carry out any law, rule, or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce penalties associated with the possession, use, or distribution of any schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 801 et seq.) or any tetrahydrocannabinols derivative,” the proposed bill says. That text could actually block the decriminalization law the District passed earlier this year, but a summary of the bill’s provisions posted Tuesday evening on the House Appropriations Committee’s website only indicates that it intended to block legalization.
In any other jurisdiction in the country, the ban wouldn’t be an issue; states or cities could just use their own local revenue to pay for legalization, and Congress wouldn’t have a say on it. But here in D.C., all the money the city government takes in and spends is, technically, appropriated back to the District by Congress, from city income taxes to parking meter fees, so lawmakers get to weigh in how on federal and local dollars are spent. (And speed cameras, too, though at least a House GOP proposal to ban those didn’t make it into the final text.) Which means that language would keep the city from even taking steps to make the ballot measure a law, much less setting up the complex system of regulated, legal marijuana sales advocates had imagined.
Theoretically, Senate Democrats or the White House could put up a fight and refuse to pass the bill over the marijuana ban. But that would require them to care more about what D.C. voters (none of whom are allowed to vote for members of Congress, after all) want than about getting the bill passed before the government runs out of money later this week. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, had said earlier Tuesday that he was “opposed” to the ban, but he also said he wouldn’t stop it if it made it into the legislation.
The D.C. Cannabis Campaign, which had sponsored the ballot measure to legalize pot, wasn’t pleased.
The pot provision had been championed by Rep. Andy Harris, a Maryland Republican who’s also a physician and, evidently, the self-appointed guardian of the virtues of District children (who, presumably, won’t encounter any marijuana in D.C. while it remains illegal). Despite his interest in D.C.’s local government, Harris hasn’t yet picked up a petition to run in either the Ward 4 or Ward 8 special elections for D.C. Council, but you can contact his office at (202) 225-5311, or visit in person at 1533 Longworth House Office Building, if you’d like to try to get his attention for any other municipal matters.
Just for good measure, the so-called “cromnibus” bill also continued an existing policy banning the District from covering abortion through its Medicaid programs. And it included language indicating that it’s the sense of D.C.’s out-of-town rulers that any legislation the District enacts dealing with how health insurance plans cover birth control “should include a ‘conscience clause’ which provides exceptions for religious beliefs and moral convictions.” That one, though, is purely symbolic.
This post has been updated to clarify the nature of how the funds ban works.
Photo by Diliff via Wikimedia/CC BY 2.5