Last month, people living in the District of Columbia turned out to overwhelmingly vote in favor of marijuana legalization. But now Congress is potentially planning to abuse their power by stripping the district’s roughly 650,000 citizens of their basic democratic rights. In budget negotiations, Congressional Democrats are thinking of giving in to the Republicans’ demand to effectively overturn the recent initiative. From the Washington Post:
Tucked in the massive spending bill needed to prevent a federal government shutdown may be a measure sought by conservative House Republicans to halt marijuana legalization in the nation’s capital, advocates for the measure say.
Seven in 10 D.C. voters backed an initiative last month to follow Colorado and Washington state in legalizing marijuana.
But three people who have been closely tracking the issue say budget negotiators in the Democratic-controlled Senate have agreed to curb the popular measure. Congress has the power to do so by restricting city spending.
While the people of D.C. are denied any representation in Congress, the federal government has the unfair power to overturn any local law in the District. Over the years, Congress has used this power to force unpopular and often damaging policy changes on people living in our nation’s capital.
Overturning the will of the voters would not just be unfair, anti-democratic, and immoral; it would also be bad politics. National polls have found that the public overwhelmingly thinks marijuana’s legal status should be a local matter and not decided by Congress.
Democrats have the ability to stop this abuse of power if they want. The party still controls the Senate until next year and President Obama can veto any bill. In its veto threat against a previous spending bill, the White House stated, “the Administration strongly opposes the language in the bill preventing the District from using its own local funds to carry out locally-passed marijuana policies.”
More details should be known relatively shortly when the omnibus spending bill is actually released.
Update 3:00pm – The National Journal is reporting that the omnibus bill will allow D.C. to legalize personal possession and limited home cultivation of marijuana, but will prevent the District from creating a system of taxed and regulated recreational marijuana businesses. The D.C. Council had been working on a tax and regulate bill that they were planning to approve early next year. Negotiations around the omnibus are ongoing so thing could still change.
Jon Walker is the author of After Legalization: Understanding the future of marijuana policy, on sale for just $0.99