Congress is Trying to Ruin Legalized Marijuana in D.C. for Everyone

June 18th 2015

Alex Mierjeski

House lawmakers in the Appropriations Committee voted Wednesday to approve a federal budget bill that included many controversial provisions relating to how the District of Columbia can spend its money, a move some observers called an attack on the District's democratic process. 

Ahead of the vote, congressional lawyers made clear in the bill that Congress still believes it decides how local tax dollars are spent -- despite a 2013 voter-approved measure D.C. lawmakers believe gives them the power to control their city's budget, the Washington Post notesCongress' stance is an increasingly controversial one for D.C. lawmakers and residents, especially as Republican representatives from other states move to interfere with some of the city's most deeply held progressive laws on issues like gun control and marijuana reforms.

According to a House budget report that preceded Wednesday's vote, "[t]he Committee continues to consider a referendum providing local funds budget autonomy as an expression of the opinion of the District of Columbia residents without any authority to change or alter the existing relationship between Federal appropriations and the District." 

But the budget's potential restrictions on D.C. could be a tipping point for advocates fed up with congressional interference in local matters. Led by Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), the Committee voted Wednesday to include a ban on the use of local funds for abortion services, which is an otherwise state-by-state decision, as well as an amendment that would strike down a D.C. law protecting workers against discrimination based on their reproductive decisions, which conservatives say infringes on the rights of religious organizations. Republican Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Rep. Jim Jordan (Ohio) also introduced legislation which would redraw D.C.'s gun laws, which are some of the toughest in the country, the Post explains. 

Another proposal would block any effort to fully implement the city's marijuana reforms, which were passed by referendum last year and saw seven out of 10 D.C. voters approving legalization. A rider by Rep. Andy Harris (R-M.D.) to last year's budget also barred state and local funds being used to implement reforms. Due to a bizarre loophole, marijuana is legal in the city, but sales are banned. The proposal for the FY2016 budget would ban legal sales until at least 2017, according to the Post. 

According to the Washington Times, the District's nonvoting representative in Congress, Eleanor Holmes Norton, said she would force a vote on the House floor to remove all budget riders that passed in the D.C. appropriations bill. "No member will get a free pass ... for violating his or her own cardinal Republican local control principles," she said.