D.C. Attorney General Threatens City Council With Jail Time For Discussing Marijuana

By McCarton Ackerman 02/10/15

Adding insult to injury, D.C. council members could get whisked off to jail for the crime of holding a public hearing on marijuana.

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Washington, D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine has threatened members of the D.C. City Council with fines and even jail time for discussing marijuana, forcing them to halt plans for a hearing on the legalization of marijuana.

The Washington Post first reported Racine’s comments that holding meetings on marijuana “would violate federal and civil criminal codes and provisions.” Democratic Council Chairman Phil Mendelson confirmed that the hearing on the bill would be canceled and asked the dozens of witnesses in attendance to instead participate in an informal, round-table discussion.

“Holding hearings, that’s what we do,” said council member Vincent B. Orange (D-At Large). “If we can’t hold a hearing, then we need to pack up and go home.” Orange also said the threat of jail time was particularly disconcerting since the D.C. City Council’s own attorney said the hearings could proceed without potential ramifications from Congress.

D.C. voters overwhelming approved Initiative 71 last November, which called for the legalization of marijuana. Under the bill, residents could have up to two ounces of marijuana and cultivate up to three plants for personal use. Last month, D.C. council member Davis Grosso (I-At Large) led the charge for introducing a measure that would allow for a comprehensive system for legally regulating, manufacturing, and selling both marijuana and marijuana products in the District.

Congress attempted to halt the measure last December by adding a rider in its spending bill to stop D.C. lawmakers from using federal funds to enact the legalization law. Since D.C. is a federal district and not a state, Congress has historically supervised its budgets and laws. But Michael Botticelli, the acting director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said that while he doesn’t agree with legalizing marijuana, he also don’t believe it’s Congress’ place to try and stop it.

“As a resident of the District, I might not agree about legalization, but I do agree with our own ability to spend our own money the way that we want to do that,” he said last week. “The president, as it relates to the District, I think was very clear that the District should stick to its home rule.” Obama’s 2015 budget also calls for D.C. to spend its own money regulating marijuana.

Mason Tvert, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, said that Botticelli’s statement was “a big step for someone who works in an office that has for decades gone out of its way to keep marijuana illegal everywhere and at any cost."

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.