Washington D.C. – Voters in the District of Colombia will likely be snuffed out if Congress has their way with proposed Federal budget cuts that would all but eliminate legalized marijuana. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said on Tuesday that Democrats won’t be able to fend off the Republicans’ course of action against legalized marijuana.
D.C. voters operate under a law called ‘home rule‘ which allows their voter-base to choose their own mayor, have a District Council, and dictate laws within the confines of Washington DC. The home rule is what allowed the overwhelming 70% of DC residents to vote for and pass Measure 71 which legalized marijuana in the District. However, Washington DC’s budget is still controlled by the Federal government which poses some real problems.
The exact language from the House Appropriations Committee “Prohibits both federal and local funds from being used to implement a referendum legalizing recreational marijuana use in the District.” This is also known as the “rider” that Republicans have vowed to attach to each spending bill.
Although Republicans have significant leverage with control of the budget, President Obama still has the final say with the ability to veto Congressional decisions. DC Council member David Grosso has been an avid supporter of marijuana legalization, and previously stated, “We have to move on this while President Obama is in office. I don’t know what happens after that.”
Mayor-elect Muriel Bowser issued a statement on Tuesday saying, “I call on all members of Congress to respect the will of D.C. voters and reject any attempts to violate our right to self-governance. In the meantime, the Council and I will move forward to implement the law in a thoughtful and responsible way.”
Aside from political leaders, it is DC residents who will likely express the most frustration with strong-arming Republicans. One of the reasons central to the passage of Measure 71 is the racial disparity in marijuana arrests. As recent as 2012, the arrest rate of blacks was disturbingly lopsided in DC with as many as 90% of marijuana arrests targeting blacks when the black population in DC hovers around 50%.
Aside from party politics you may be asking, “Why does the budget interfere with legalizing marijuana?” The answer is quite simple. In order for full legalization to work there needs to be a robust regulatory system in place. Dispensaries, growers, and manufacturers can’t be regulated without the funds for some type of overarching regulatory board.
Allocating licenses to cannabis related business would need management systems and personnel in place to get the ball rolling, and that takes money. States that have pushed forward with legalization have allocated their anticipated tax revenue to create such a regulatory system. Legal, or heavily decriminalized marijuana has a good chance at keeping it’s place in DC, but would not be taxed in regulated in a common-sense manner. This would likely result in some sort of quasi-legal existence of marijuana with an even more robust black market than exists today.
Although President Obama has indicated that the Feds shouldn’t interfere with local governance, it would be a real surprise to see him veto these fiscal appropriations decisions. While many see only doom and gloom for legalization in DC, there remains a glimmer of hope for DC residents and policy reform proponents. As the President heads in to his last 2 years in office, it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibilities to see him give the proverbial middle finger to the Republican majority.
Photo Credit: citron_smurf