Congress Attempts to Block D.C. Marijuana Legalization

By Mark Wilson, Esq. on December 10, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

As we noted last month, Washington, D.C.'s voter-approved recreational marijuana law is subject to a veto by Congress, which has the last word in administration over the District. Well, it looks like Congress is going to severely harsh people's mellows.

Buried in a 2015 appropriations bill -- on pages 213 to 214, to be exact -- is a paragraph noting that "none of the funds made available in this Act to the Department of Justice may be used" by any of the states or jurisdictions that legalize marijuana in any form to implement those laws. (We should note that the text of this bill only seems to affect "medical marijuana," but an appropriations committee flyer suggests that forthcoming legislation will apply to any kind of marijuana.)

Sold Out

The Huffington Post is cautiously optimistic, however. The appropriations bill doesn't forbid Washington, D.C., from implementing the law, only from using federal or local funds to regulate it. Unlike Colorado, Washington, Alaska, and Oregon, there would be no way to create tax or licensing systems, but possession of small amounts of marijuana would no longer be a crime.

The appropriations bill amendment was apparently part of a House compromise between members of congress who wanted to block every part of the law, including decriminalization, and those who didn't. Though Sen. Harry Reid has said he's opposed to the House's attempts to shut down D.C. marijuana legalization, he's apparently not doing much to stop it. Eleanor Holmes Norton, a non-voting House delegate representing D.C., said the District was being sold out by Democrats. "I don't even know which Democrats are in the room. ... I cannot tell why Democrats would want to give Republicans a head start to do what they are going to be able to do, I suppose, in less than a month," she told the The Washington Post.

Taxation Without Representation

The problem, of course, isn't new. Washington, D.C., residents have long been plagued by the problem of not having control over their own city and not having any representation in Congress. Even though 70 percent of D.C. residents voting in the election approved the initiative, it's been blocked largely on the actions of a single member of Congress: Rep. Andy Harris, a Republican from Maryland.

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