Congressional Budget Upends D.C. Pot Legalization

By Paul Gaita 12/12/14

Maybe the time has come to allow the District of Columbia to chart its own course.

marijuana gavel concept.jpg

A federal budget deal struck between House Republications and Democrats in the Senate has nullified a marijuana legalization bill approved by voters in Washington, D.C. Initiative 71, which allowed individuals 21 years of age and older to possess up to two ounces of marijuana for personal use, was voted into law by an overwhelming majority on November 4, 2014.

But the $1.1 trillion spending bill approved by Democrats and Republicans on December 9 prohibits the District from using any city or federal funds to enact drug laws that are weaker than ones established by the Drug Enforcement Administration, which still classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug.

Though similar legalization efforts were brought into law in Alaska and Oregon on the same day as the District, Congress is granted full access to and approval of the city’s federal spending allotments, and can even impact how city tax dollars are used to enact laws. Response from both District Democrats and marijuana legalization advocates were marked by anger and disbelief.

“I can’t believe they did this,” said D.C. Councilman Phil Mendelson (D). “We don’t need to be locking these people up.” Proponents marched to Capitol Hill and staged a sit-in at the office of Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), but left after two hours without ever meeting the senator.

Though the issue still requires the approval of the District’s attorney general, D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray put what would seem to be the final word on the situation, as it stands now, by stating, “We don’t know that there’s anything else for us to do.”

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix

Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.