Congress Could Overturn Legalization in DC


The 2014 midterm election was a huge victory for the cannabis industry. Alaska, Oregon and Washington, D.C., passed their respective cannabis reform bills and the inevitability of nationwide legalization became just a little bit more real.

As entrepreneurs and investors try to find the best way to break into the newly legal marijuana markets of Alaska and Oregon, many are holding off on setting up shop in the District of Columbia, and the answer why just may surprise you.

Although D.C. voters approved the legalization of recreational marijuana by more than 64 percent, the now Republican controlled Congress still has the ability to overturn any law that they pass. The reason why is because of a provision in the Constitution called the Home Rule Act, which gives Congress exclusive jurisdiction over the District in “all cases whatsoever.”

With Ebola and ISIS still menacing the global population, you would think that Congress has better things to do than violate the will of the people, but at least one congressman has signaled that he will not stand for this flagrant display of democracy.

Congressional Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., is a well known marijuana opponent that has made it no secret that he plans to try and stymie the will of the District’s voters.

Speaking with The Washington Post, Harris criticized the District’s voters and vowed to halt marijuana legalization.  “Actions by those in D.C. will result in higher drug use among teens. I will consider using all resources available to a member of Congress to stop this action.” Harris obviously hasn’t read this publication, because if he had he would know that the liberalization of marijuana laws have no effect on teenagers.

In the past, Congress has delayed the implementation of marijuana reform in D.C. by withholding funding. In 1998, D.C. passed medical marijuana with 69 percent of the vote, but it took more than 12 years to become legal because Congress continuously withheld the money to implement it.

Then, earlier this year, Harris also attempted to block the District’s plan to decriminalize marijuana by withholding funding. The provision was attached as a rider to another, unrelated, bill. It had support from congressional Republicans, but was luckily killed in negotiations when President Obama threatened to veto the bill.

Although Harris is fervently committed to his anti-cannabis crusade, some prominent Senate Republicans have voiced their disinterest in meddling in the affairs of the District. Speaking with the political blog Roll Call, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said he did not support overturning the District’s decision.

“I’m not for having the federal government get involved,” Paul said. “I haven’t really taken a stand on that, but I’m against the federal government telling them they can’t.” Politics aside, it is nice to see politicians voice their support to abide by the will of the people instead of their own agenda.

Congress has 60 days to give their yea or nay on legalization, but there is a possibility that they may just let the deadline expire. Congress does not have a reputation for moving quickly. If they voice their opinion on the issue, they risk sparking the national legalization debate, a conversation none of them likely wants to start.

Although it is looking like Congress will permit D.C. to go green, only time will tell if they decide to act as the spoiler to the cannabis industry’s huge victory in our nation’s capital. Until Congress acts, all we can do is keep our eyes peeled, clutch our capital and hold our breath until the deadline expires.

William Sumner, a freelance writer and marijuana journalist, was a staff writer for MJINews from May 2014 through February 2018. You can follow him on Twitter @W_Sumner.

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