Pubdate: Thu, 26 Feb 2015
Source: Washington Times (DC)
Copyright: 2015 The Washington Times, LLC.
Author: Andrea Noble


D.C. lawmakers held steadfast that marijuana legalization laws would 
go into effect Thursday, despite threats from two House Republicans 
that doing so would put local government employees at risk of jail time.

Local officials were put on notice late Tuesday in a letter from Utah 
Rep. Jason Chaffetz saying that Congress is investigating whether the 
city violated federal law by spending money to implement a 
voter-approved initiative to legalize the possession and home 
cultivation of marijuana.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser responded Wednesday, saying the District is 
well within its legal right to implement the laws, which were set to 
take effect at 12:01 a.m. Thursday, and that she doesn't believe the 
implementation of Initiative 71 has cost the District any money.

"We believe we're on very strong legal ground," said Ms. Bowser, a 
Democrat who was joined at a Wednesday news conference at the John A. 
Wilson Building by eight D.C. Council members, the city's police 
chief and attorney general.

Four House Democrats - Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, Nita Lowey and 
Jose Serrano of New York, and John Conyers of Michigan - also sided 
with the District, noting in a joint statement that the city "has 
legal authority to implement Initiative 71."

Federal and local lawmakers have been sparring for months over 
whether the ballot measure, approved by 70 percent of D.C. voters in 
November, can legally take effect.

"If you decide to move forward tomorrow with the legalization of 
marijuana in the District, you will be doing so in knowing and 
willful violation of the law," wrote Mr. Chaffetz and Rep. Mark 
Meadows, North Carolina Republican, who sit on committees with 
oversight of the District.

Initiative 71 will make it legal for residents 21 and older to 
possess up to two ounces of marijuana for recreational use, grow up 
to six marijuana plants inside a D.C. residence and transfer up to an 
ounce of marijuana to others. Regulation of the sale of marijuana is 
a task left up to city lawmakers, who thus far have been unable to 
enact any legislation due to the prohibitions enacted by Congress.

Congress passed a spending bill in December that blocks the District 
from spending any money - federal or local tax dollars - to enact 
legislation that would legalize or reduce penalties associated with 
the recreational use of marijuana or any other Schedule 1 drug.

City lawmakers have taken the legal stance that Initiative 71 is 
self-executing and took effect after the D.C. Board of Elections 
certified the results - well ahead of the adoption of Congress' 
spending bill. Thursday marks the end of the 30-day congressional 
review period for Initiative 71, a process required of all D.C. 
legislation before becoming law.

"We do disagree on a matter of law, and we think there are perfectly 
reasonable ways to resolve those things without us threatening him, 
nor he us," Ms. Bowser said of Mr. Chaffetz' warning. "Bullying the 
District of Columbia is not what his constituents expect, nor do ours."

By allowing the law to take effect, Mr. Chaffetz and Mr. Meadows said 
that D.C. officials will be in violation of the federal 
Anti-Deficiency Act, which stipulates that the District cannot spend 
money that has not been appropriated by Congress.

Their letter asks Ms. Bowser to provide Congress with the names of 
any city employees who aided in "any action related to the enactment 
of Initiative 71." It also asks for an accounting of any money the 
District spent on enacting the law.

Ms. Bowser said Wednesday the city intends "to be cooperative" with 
the request, but she later said she does not believe implementation 
of the law "has a cost" - noting that handouts police will use to 
explain Initiative 71 are a byproduct of the need to educate 
residents about city laws.

No one has ever been convicted of violating the Anti-Deficiency Act, 
but the U.S. Government Accountability Office regularly investigates 
violation claims. Conviction of a violation of the act could carry 
jail time or fines. Members of Congress have suggested that the 
authority to take further action on the matter now lies with the 
Justice Department.

Spokespeople for both U.S. Attorney for the District Ronald C. Machen 
Jr. and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. declined to comment Wednesday.

D.C. Council members active in loosening the city's marijuana laws 
said they were not concerned, believing Mr. Holder will not pursue 
such charges against city officials.

"That would be his prerogative whether or not he wanted to proceed 
down that path," said D.C. Council member David Grosso, at-large 
independent. "We assume he won't, given the fact that he's been in 
dialogue with us and his office with the city all along. So they knew 
what we were up to all along."

Council member Kenyan McDuffie, Ward 5 Democrat, pointed to efforts 
the city has taken to act within accordance of the current 
constraints adopted by Congress, citing the downgrading of a recent 
hearing on the taxation and regulation of marijuana sales. Earlier 
this month, the council held a roundtable discussion on the marijuana 
laws rather than an official hearing on proposed legislation after 
the city's attorney general warned that doing so could run afoul of 
the Anti-Deficiency Act.

"We took the course of action that both the council's general counsel 
and the attorney general said was prudent and legal," Mr. McDuffie 
said. "Any effort on behalf of Congressman Chaffetz or anybody else 
on the Hill to suggest that we're violating the law is simply 
overreaching at this point."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom