The standing of cannabis legalization in Washington DC is confusing, to say the least. There is little question that citizens of the Capitol overwhelmingly support cannabis legalization, as nearly 70% voted in favor of legalization (Initiative 71) last November. There is a similarly strong level of support for reform among their local elected officials. The City Council has supported loosening the restrictions on cannabis in the past and has even made it easier to have cannabis-related criminal records sealed. The Mayor of Washington DC, Muriel E. Bowser, has made it clear she supports implementing Initiative 71.
But all of their efforts may be placed on hold if Republicans in Congress get their way. The legalization measure is supposed to take effect at 12:01am Thursday, February 26th, 2015. Despite the city’s intention to move ahead with implementing the initiative, powerful Republicans in the House of Representatives are calling on the Justice Department to step in and prevent the implementation of DC’s cannabis legalization initiative.
Republican Representative Andy Harris from Maryland, who has repeatedly introduced measures in the House to block and undermine cannabis reform efforts in Washington DC, told The Washington Post that he believes the feds should prosecute people in DC if the law is put into practice. “I think the attorney general should prosecute people in the District who participate in this under the Anti-Deficiency Act,” he said.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz from Utah and Rep. Mark Meadows from North Carolina, both also Republicans, took the political pressure another step farther; they sent a letter to Mayor Bowser, directly threatening her with prosecution if she chooses to uphold the will of her constituents, which she has already indicated she intends to do, and have opened an investigation into her administration’s attempts to implement the law. They’ve demanded a full accounting of any budgetary funds used to implement the measure and the names of any staff who have been involved as well. Their letter makes it clear that they feel that they are legally entitled to this action.
“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…And there are very severe consequences for violating this provision. You can go to prison for this. We’re not playing a little game here.”
If the measure goes into effect as planned, possession of cannabis will no longer be a crime in Washington DC, though public smoking is banned. Adults over the age of 21 would be allowed to possess up to two ounces of cannabis and cultivate up to six plants. The legalization initiative is complicated by the ongoing federal prohibition of cannabis. Roughly 29% of the land in Washington DC is actually federal land, and the legalization law will have no impact there. Individuals in compliance with DC law who stray on federal lands while in possession of cannabis may be subject to arrest and prosecution by federal law enforcement.
So far, the Justice Department has not issued a statement as to whether it will step in as requested. Some are hopeful that this means they will turn a blind eye to the requests of the unhappy Representatives wishing to undermine the will of the voters in Washington DC, but that remains to be seen.
Photo Credit: Wasin Pummarin