What’s Next For Marijuana Legalization In D.C.?

In Medical Marijuana in the Omnibus Bill and Marijuana and the Cromnibus: Let’s Not Get Too Excited, we wrote about the nationwide impact of the recent spending bill. But what exactly is it going to mean for marijuana in D.C. itself?

Section 809 of the appropriations bill states:

None of the funds contained in this Act may be used to enact any law, rule, or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce penalties associated with the possession, use, or distribution of any schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 801 et seq.) or any tetrahydrocannabinols derivative.

Because Washington D.C. is not a state, but rather federal land, all funds utilized in D.C. are federal funds. What this unfortunately may mean is that marijuana will remain illegal in D.C., even though the voters expressed their desire that it be otherwise.

Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority, argues that the above language blocking legalization “hinges on the definition of the word ‘enact’” and does not apply to the carrying out of laws. His argument is that D.C. officers are not using any funds to enact any legalization laws; they are merely using funds to carry out laws that have been enacted. The courts will likely need to decide this issue, but no matter what, this provision is tremendously disappointing in that on at least some level it attempts to contradict the votes of seven out of ten D.C. voters. Whatever happened to self-governance?

Back in November, we expressed our concerns about how “Congress could prevent a D.C. voter initiative from being enacted by tying District funding for I-71 to federal spending bills to effectively prevent a budget for its implementation. Unlike states, the District of Columbia is overseen by the federal government. Consequently, the District’s laws and budget must be approved by Congress.”

There is a bit of good news in this appropriations bill, however, and that is that it is just an appropriations bill, which means it will last for only one year. Next year’s bill may be fairer to D.C. or in the meantime, a court might just rule in D.C.’s favor on the meaning of “enact.” We join in Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton’s call for D.C. to “continue the fight.” Mostly because at this point, it appears to have no other real choice.

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