Pubdate: Mon, 23 Feb 2015
Source: Jerusalem Post (Israel)
Copyright: 2015 The Jerusalem Post
Author: Ian Simpson, Reuters


WASHINGTON (Reuters)  Marijuana advocates' hopes that the US capital 
would easily follow in the footsteps of Denver or Seattle in clearing 
the way for lawful pot use are set to go up in smoke this week.

Voters in the District of Columbia last year passed a measure 
clearing the way for pot possession, but members of Congress have 
used their power over the city to prevent local officials from coming 
up with any plan to let the drug be sold legally for recreational purposes.

With the congressional review period for the new measure set to 
expire on Wednesday, District of Columbia pot users will be left in a 
murkier position than those in Colorado and Washington state, which 
fully legalized marijuana last year.

"What you're going to have on February 26 is an anomaly. You can 
possess a small amount... but you can only get it, I guess, 
illegally," said Eleanor Holmes Norton, Washington's non-voting 
representative in Congress. "It's going to be an incomplete reform."

The uncertainty stems from Initiative 71, a referendum approved by 65 
percent of District voters in November. A key argument by supporters 
was that marijuana laws unfairly victimized black people in 
Washington, who represent about half the city's population.

Initiative 71 allows possession of up to 56 grams of marijuana and 
six pot plants, three of them mature. It allows the gift of up to 26 
grams of pot, but has no provision for sales.

District finance officials have estimated the local market, including 
medical marijuana, could be worth $130 million a year.

Initiative 71 ran into opposition in Congress, which has oversight 
over the heavily Democratic District of Columbia. Republicans 
inserted a provision in a spending bill in December that barred the 
District from using any funds to legalize pot.

Democratic Mayor Muriel Bowser has contended that the District of 
Columbia can move forward with legalization because voters enacted 
the measure before Congress stepped in.

But Representative Jason Chaffetz, the chairman of the House of 
Representatives Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has vowed 
to block legalization, citing the December spending bill.

"I respect the people who live here and most everything passes 
through without a problem. But the idea that this is going to be a 
haven for pot smoking, I can't support that," Chaffetz, a Utah 
Republican, told CNN this month.

When District of Columbia Council committees debated a bill to 
regulate marijuana like alcohol, lawmakers downgraded the February 9 
hearing to an informal "roundtable discussion" to avoid raising 
objections from Congress.

Chaffetz responded last week by sending a letter to the council 
asking for an explanation of the hearing and documentation, including 
details on the salaries of any city employees who took part.

Asked what Bowser, the mayor, will do when Initiative 71 takes effect 
on Thursday, a spokeswoman said, "Right now, it's on a to-be-determined basis."

A spokesman for District Attorney General Karl Racine declined to 
give details about what advice he had offered officials about the new pot law.

But Racine, police and other officials "are very much committed to 
ensuring the transition to the regime enacted by Initiative 71 takes 
place in an orderly manner," he said in an email.

Dr. Malik Burnett, policy manager with the pro-legalization Drug 
Policy Alliance, said he expected District of Columbia officials 
would figure out how to regulate sales and taxes despite 
congressional opposition.

"This process will be worked out over the next couple of weeks or 
months. I'm pretty optimistic," he said.

Burnett said it was unlikely that users of medical marijuana from 
outside the District of Columbia could get pot in Washington since 
the city lacked reciprocity accords for medical marijuana use.

Despite marijuana's uncertain status, District of Columbia 
entrepreneurs are gearing up for legalization.

A convention in Washington the coming weekend sponsored by ComfyTree, 
a Michigan cannabis consultancy, has drawn at least 600 registered 
visitors and 40 exhibitors, said Tiffany Bowden, the company's co-founder.

"Definitely, the District of Columbia is the next frontier for 
legalization," she said.

The District of Columbia now has one of the lightest US penalties for 
pot possession. Marijuana possession remains illegal under federal 
law, but the Obama administration's Justice Department has generally 
taken a handsoff approach in states where its sale is properly regulated.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom