Pubdate: Mon, 17 Nov 2014
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Copyright: 2014 The Washington Post Company
Author: Aaron C. Davis
Page: B1


Little Interest in Blocking Law

Republicans Describe Other Priorities

Looming over the District's historic decision this month to legalize 
marijuana has been another mandate that voters delivered on Election 
Day: A Republican majority on Capitol Hill with the power to 
interfere with the measure when it goes to Congress for review.

But congressional Republicans appear to have other things on their minds.

"To be honest, that's pretty far down my list of priorities," said 
Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), who was maneuvering late last week 
to force a vote on U.S.-Iran nuclear talks.

"I haven't given it one thought," said Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who 
CNN reported Friday was mapping out a presidential run.

"Focused on other things," added Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who will 
lead Senate oversight of the country's military campaigns in Iraq and 
Syria when Republicans regain control of the chamber in January for 
the first time in seven years.

Republicans also are focused on making good on promises for early 
battles with President Obama on immigration and to dismantle the 
Affordable Care Act.

In all, in the first days of Congress's return to Capitol Hill since 
the election, there appeared to be little to no appetite for 
Republicans to pile on the vexing issue of marijuana legalization.

In fact, Republican congressional leaders may keep marijuana off 
their plate in the new year by design, said Cully Stimson, a senior 
legal fellow who tracks the issue for the conservative Heritage Foundation.

Nationwide, 23 states allow sales of marijuana for medical purposes; 
lawmakers in 18 states have stripped away jail time for possession, 
and four states, including red Alaska, have gone as far as to 
legalize pot. Gaining consensus among Republicans to upend a similar 
law in the District, Cully said, could force party leaders to spend 
political capital that they would like to use elsewhere. As the party 
sets its sights on retaking the White House in 2016, it also could 
expose a muddling rift within the GOP base between social 
conservatives and libertarians.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), celebrated in libertarian circles, said on 
Election Day that the D.C. measure was an issue for city voters to 
decide. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), a favorite of family-values groups, 
has repeatedly blasted Obama for not enforcing federal drug laws.

Last week, as Republican leaders preached party unity and a need for 
teamwork to defeat Obama on broader issues, Paul and Cruz declined to 
comment on the D.C. marijuana measure.

"The preferred option may just be to not divide the Republican caucus 
on a divisive issue," Stimson said. "Democrats and pro-pot advocates 
will work to cleave off libertarian-leaning Republicans. I could see 
[House Speaker John A.] Boehner . . . or [soon-to-be Senate majority 
leader] Mitch McConnell saying, 'We're just not going to bring it 
up.' I could see it playing out that way politically."

Stimson, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense, said a brawl 
between conservative and libertarian factions within the GOP is 
inevitable later next year, when Congress must decide whether to 
reauthorize provisions of the Patriot Act that allow for domestic 
surveillance. "Do you really want to pick at that scab too early?"

Such political considerations seem poised to benefit the almost 7 in 
10 D.C. voters who backed Initiative 71. The ballot measure that 
passed Nov. 4 legalizes possession of up to two ounces of marijuana 
in the nation's capital. It also allows city residents to grow up to 
three mature plants at home.

D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) said he intends to codify 
the initiative into law and transmit it to Capitol Hill for review 
early in January.

That would start the clock ticking on a 30- to 60-day review period.

Unless Congress acts to block it during that window, marijuana 
legalization would then become law. Such a block has happened only 
three times in 40 years, and it would require not only the House and 
Senate to both pass a bill, but the president to sign off on the 
congressional measure halting the District's law.

What is more likely is that conservative lawmakers will continue to 
try to subvert the D.C. law through annual federal spending measures, 
as they have with gun limits and abortion.

Rep. Andy Harris, a Republican who represents Maryland's Eastern 
Shore, succeeded over the summer in persuading fellow House 
Republicans to back a measure precluding the District from spending 
its own money to take any step weakening enforcement of federal marijuana laws.

That language remains part of an active House spending bill, but 
Senate Democrats have vowed not to accept it, and Obama has suggested 
he would veto a measure containing such language.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), a nonvoting member of the House, 
said proponents will have to remain vigilant in coming weeks to make 
sure the amendment by Harris does not find its way into the final 
spending bill that Congress must pass by mid December.

Even if it is kept out this year, the District's marijuana law could 
be subject to another round of uncertainty next year during the 
congressional budget process - even before it takes effect.

D.C. Mayor-elect Muriel E. Bowser (D) has said she wants the 
effective date of the District's marijuana legalization to be delayed 
until city lawmakers settle on a regulatory framework to sell and tax the drug.

Such a scheme would also have to pass congressional review, pushing 
the likely date of the enactment of both marijuana measures into late 
2015, and with first legal sales not likely before 2016.

That delayed timeline would almost certainly give Harris another 
chance next year to upend the measure before any pot is sold.

One Republican, however, joined Holmes Norton last week in urging 
Republicans to sidestep the issue.

"Wake up!" said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) at a Capitol Hill 
news conference, flanked by lawmakers from Oregon and Colorado, where 
voters have also legalized pot. "The American people are shifting on 
this issue."

A former press secretary and speechwriter for Ronald Reagan, 
Rohrabacher seized on the libertarian arguments for legalizing marijuana.

"The fundamental principles are individual liberty, which Republicans 
have always talked about; limited government, which Republicans have 
always talked about; the doctor-patient relationship, which, of 
course, we have been stressing a lot lately; and of course, states' 
rights," he said.

"To my fellow Republicans, this is going to help you politically," 
Rohrabacher said. "If I can't appeal to you on your philosophical 
nature, come on over for just raw politics - the numbers are going 
this way now."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom