The historically unproductive Congress has mostly been a burden on the country but one of the few unlikely benefactors of this dysfunction could be marijuana reform efforts in the District of Columbia.
The people living in D.C. live under an unfair and anti-democratic set of rules. Even though the American citizens living in the district have no representation in Congress, Congress has the power to change its local laws. Congress can directly change local D.C. law approving a stand-alone bill, but how Congress most often interferes by attaching a policy rider effecting the district to a much larger piece of legislation. These policy riders only go into effect, though, if the the larger bill they are attached to is signed into law – and this Congress isn’t passing very many laws at the moment.
For example, last month the House approved the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill with a policy rider from Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) which would prevent D.C. from using funds to implement marijuana reform. It was designed to stop Initiative 71, a local marijuana legalization ballot measure which is expected to win with strong support from D.C. voters this November.
Because of this historic level of dysfunction in Congress this particular appropriations bill is likely to die and all its policy riders will die with it. Instead Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) expects that when Congress briefly returns next month they will just pass a clean (meaning policy rider-free) continuing resolution to cover all funding issues until after the election. Professional budget watcher Stan Collender expects that continuing resolution to be followed by yet another one in November to maintain the status quo well into 2015.
These moves basically kick the can down the road but when Congress is just kicking the can they normally don’t have time to kick the people of D.C. When Congress is doing nothing it is also not interfering.
At minimum, pushing any final fight about Congress interfering in D.C.’s marijuana laws until after the election should make it politically more difficult to do so. That would require Congress to abuse their power to directly contradict what was just revealed to be the will of the local electorate. In addition, it is likely voters in Oregon and Alaska will also approve legalizing marijuana and that should weaken the prohibitionists’ position.
Jon Walker is the author of After Legalization: Understanding the future of marijuana policy
Photo by Mike Licht under Creative Commons license