Pubdate: Tue, 03 Feb 2015
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Copyright: 2015 The Washington Post Company
Author: Aaron C. Davis


Proposal Ends Congress's Restriction on Setting Up Regulations in the City

President Obama's $4 trillion budget would do a lot of things, but 
one of the most controversial may turn out to be allowing legal sales 
of marijuana in the nation's capital.

D.C. voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure last year to 
follow Colorado and Washington state in legalizing pot for recreational use.

But in December, outgoing Democrats and incoming Republican leaders 
in Congress moved to halt the measure. Under a broad budget deal, 
they prevented the District's mayor and council from spending any 
money to work out the specifics of how pot would be sold, which the 
ballot measure left up to local politicians to decide.

The congressional interference left in limbo the fate of the entire 
legalization measure, which was approved by seven in 10 D.C. voters.

Obama's budget, however, would remove the congressional restriction, 
allowing D.C. leaders to spend the city's tax money to develop a 
regulatory scheme - and a system for taxing pot sales. If allowed by 
Congress, that could let pot stores open in the nation's capital as 
early as the end of the year.

The tiny two-word change - tucked on Page 1,248 of Obama's budget - 
was first noticed on Monday by Tom Angell, chairman of the Marijuana Majority.

"It's great to see the president taking this subtle but important 
action to clear the way for the District to sensibly regulate 
marijuana," Angell told The Washington Post. "Now it remains to be 
seen whether leaders in Congress will stand with the majority of the 
American people or if they'll do everything they can to protect 
failed prohibition policies."

D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson last month challenged Congress 
to either block the ballot measure or let it stand, saying that by 
March the city would begin treating the ballot measure as law - that 
would effectively legalize possession without any legal way to 
purchase the drug.

Mendelson sent the ballot measure - known as Initiative 71 - to 
Capitol Hill, starting the clock ticking on a 30-day review that 
Congress has used just three times in 40 years to quash a local D.C. law.

House conservatives played down Mendelson's challenge, saying they 
didn't need to act because the city's marijuana measure was suspended 
already through the December budget deal. Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) 
has warned that the District will be in violation of Congress if it 
moves forward.

D.C.'s new mayor, Muriel E. Bowser, has also said she worries that 
legalizing the drug without any legal means for purchasing it could 
lead to open-air drug markets. But she has said she would rather move 
forward with the risky step than stand in the way of the will of city 
voters, as Congress has done.

Initiative 71 would allow residents and visitors ages 21 and older to 
legally possess as much as two ounces of marijuana and would allow 
residents to grow up to three mature marijuana plants each at home.

Obama's budget will have to pass through committees in both 
congressional chambers stacked with conservatives. It would be 
relatively easy for Harris, a member of the House Appropriations 
Committee, to again amend Obama's budget in committee and strip out 
the allowance for D.C. to legalize marijuana.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom