Pubdate: Fri, 12 Jun 2015
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Copyright: 2015 The Washington Post Company
Author: Aaron C. Davis


House Budget Plan Would Continue Ban on Sales but Not Roll Back Legalization

House Republicans advanced a budget plan Thursday that would prevent 
legal sales of marijuana in the District until at least 2017.

Advocates for legalization, however, called it a victory.

What the Republican budget does not do yet is roll back Initiative 
71, the voter-approved measure from November that legalized pot for 
recreational use in the nation's capital. Since early this year, D.C. 
residents have been allowed to possess, grow and, in the privacy of 
their own homes, smoke marijuana.

Many opportunities remain during the federal budget process for 
conservatives to target the law. But advocates for legal pot said an 
outright ban did not appear to be an early budget priority, which 
they deemed another sign that the GOP-controlled Congress may be 
softening its opposition to marijuana.

Last week, the-House approved a bipartisan measure to protect state 
medical-marijuana programs. For only the second time, it instructed 
the federal Drug Enforcement Administration not to target state 
dispensaries or medical-marijuana manufacturing or distribution 
facilities. The House also told the DEA to leave alone states that 
allow sales of cannabinoids or CBD oils derived from cannabis plants. 
House lawmakers also moved to protect production of hemp for 
industrial purposes.

On the Senate side, a handful of Republicans joined Democrats late 
last month in a committee vote to allow Veterans Affairs doctors to 
recommend medical marijuana to patients in states where it is legal. 
And on Thursday, a Senate committee adopted the House language 
protecting state medical-marijuana programs, meaning it will probably 
become law.

"We feel pretty good that the momentum is on our side," said Bill 
Piper, a spokesman for the pro-legalization Drug Policy Alliance.

Even Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.), who initiated the congressional effort 
to quash D.C. legalization last year, said in a statement that he has 
no plans to seek amendments to the federal budget that target 
marijuana laws. Harris said he thinks that the District erred in 
legalizing possession-but that it will be up to the next presidential 
administration and attorney general to clamp down on the city.

Rep. Harold Rogers (R-Ky.), chairman of the House Appropriations 
Committee, said that in the drug-policy arena, he is more concerned 
about restoring administration-proposed cuts to funding for the fight 
against drug trafficking in areas such as the Mexican border. He said 
in an interview that he did not anticipate any "earthquakes" from his 
committee regarding D.C. "social policy."

James Jones, a spokesman for the pro-statehood group DC Vote, called 
the apparent lack of will to alter the District's legalization law a 
"small victory." But he said Thursday that advocates for the District 
would not breathe easily until the federal budget is finalized later this year.

So far, the House Appropriations Committee has essentially cut and 
pasted into the next spending plan the same ineffective prohibition 
against legalization that it used last year.

Included in the Financial Services and General Government 
Appropriations bill advanced Thursday was an identical passage 
prohibiting the District from spending any money to "enact any law, 
rule, or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce penalties 
associated with the possession" of marijuana.

Early this year, D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) cast aside that 
prohibition, saying the language could not impede the District, 
because voters had already approved Initiative 71 - and the measure 
was "self-enacting."

A handful of House Republicans, led by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (Utah), 
warned the mayor against going forward but did not follow through on 
threats that the House could take legal action against D.C. officials 
for doing so.

The House budget language advanced on Thursday would not block 
possession but it would continue an ongoing ban on sales. 
Specifically, the language would continue through the next fiscal 
year a prohibition on the District spending any money to set up a 
system to regulate sales and tax marijuana, as Colorado, Washington 
state and Oregon have done since voters in those states approved legalization.

That congressional prohibition on full legalization would probably 
allow a black market for marijuana sales to continue to flourish in 
the city. Some marijuana peddlers have referred to last year's 
federal budget as the District's "dealer-protection act," because it 
kept regulated sales illegal. A first citywide crop of homegrown 
marijuana is expected to be harvested this summer.

A study last year by D.C. financial officials estimated that a legal 
cannabis market in the District could grow to be a $130 
million-a-year enterprise, driving $20 million in new tax revenue 
into the city annually. That's as much as the mayor sought this year 
in a sales-tax increase to combat the city's homeless crisis.

Rep. Jose E. Serrano, the ranking Democrat on the Appropriations 
subcommittee that advanced the spending bill, said he could not 
support the continued restriction on the District to set its own laws 
on marijuana policy and other matters.

"I did not run for Washington, D.C. City Council, I ran for U.S. 
Congress," said Serrano (N.Y.). "The people of D.C. deserve the right 
to govern themselves."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom