D.C. Votes to Legalize Marijuana, but Congress Could Change That

By Mark Wilson, Esq. on November 13, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Even though the District of Columbia overwhelmingly voted to legalize marijuana earlier this month, Washington, D.C. is no normal place, as its residents know all too well. Though the District does have a city council, acts of the council are subject to approval by Congress, with whom the buck stops when it comes to governing D.C.

So the question remains: Will a Congress that still considers marijuana as deadly as heroin be amenable to approving it for recreational use?

It's All About Andy Harris

Congress has up to 60 days after the passage of the D.C. marijuana legislation to decide to disapprove it. If Congress disapproves it, it's deemed repealed.

In June, Rep. Andy Harris, a Republican from Maryland, led the charge to keep marijuana outlawed in D.C. by blocking enforcement of a District law making possession punishable by only a $25 fine. The block came in the form of a rider attached to a spending bill, The Washington Post reported, which sought to prevent D.C. from spending any money to enact its new law. The rider ultimately failed, but Harris was re-elected to another term last week.

This time, however, D.C. has company. The Washington City Paper reported that D.C.'s congressional delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton was joined by representatives from other states that have legalized marijuana at a press conference calling on Congress to approve D.C.'s marijuana law.

Not Likely to Budge

Harris, however, seemed unfazed, reported WaPo, saying "he would employ similar tactics to block the D.C. measure" -- similar to those he used to block medical marijuana legalization in D.C. for 11 years, which involved attaching amendments to gigantic spending bills.

Though he's consistently faulted D.C. marijuana legislation over concern for the health of children, Washingtonian posited in June that Harris' real concern was looking for a leadership post on the Republican Study Committee, "an influential group of socially conservative lawmakers." A consistent stance against marijuana would likely prove his conservative bona fides.

But for pot-legalization supporters, hope might be on the way. Reason magazine noted that Sen. Rand Paul is on record as not wanting to let the federal government impose its will on D.C. And Rep. Dana Rohrabacher introduced an amendment -- which garnered 219 supporters -- designed to limit the feds' ability to undermine state medical marijuana laws.

Of course, this is all speculation -- it's only been a week, and no members of Congress, other than Harris, has said anything specifically about D.C.'s new law.

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