Despite some early grumbling from Congress threatening to block DC’s ballot initiative from becoming law (because of DC’s special status, DC ballot initiatives do not become law until they pass through a 30-day Congressional review period), with only a few hours to go, it appears that the review period has come and gone.
DC Mayor Muriel Bowser held a conference yesterday outlining the new DC law and how it would be enforced. Under DC’s new law, anyone 21 years of age or older will be able to lawfully:
- Possess two ounces or less of marijuana;
- Use marijuana on private property;
- Transfer one ounce or less of marijuana to another person, as long as (a) no money, goods or services are exchanged and (b) the recipient is 21 years of age or older; and
- Cultivate within his or her primary residence up to six marijuana plants, no more than three of which are mature.
It will remain illegal in DC for anyone to:
- Possess more than two ounces of marijuana;
- Smoke or otherwise consume marijuana on public space or anywhere to which the public is invited; including restaurants, bars, coffee shops, and public housing;
- Sell any amount of marijuana to another person; or
- Operate a vehicle or boat under the influence of marijuana.
Some Members of Congress are upset about the new law and Representative Jason Chaffetz, Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, has written to Mayor Bowser, warning her that implementation of the DC law is illegal because it would violate the federal spending bill passed at the end of last year barring federal funds from being used “to enact any law, rule, or regulation to legalize or reduce penalties associated with the possession, use or distribution” of marijuana. Chairman Chaffetz has also launched an investigation, demanding that Mayor Bower provide his Committee with information about efforts related to DC’s enactment of the ballot initiative.
Back in November, DC voters approved a ballot initiative to legalize possession (of up to two ounces) and cultivation of recreational marijuana. One of the many special things about DC, though, is that all ballot initiatives must be submitted to Congress for review before they can take effect. DC thought it best to wait until the new Congress arrived in Washington at the beginning of the year. So, on January 13th, DC sent the ballot initiative to the Hill for the required 30 legislative days of review, which now runs until February 26. In order to ‘disapprove’ the ballot initiative, both the House and the Senate would need to pass a ‘disapproval resolution,’ and then the President would need to sign it. Unless that happens, the ballot initiative will become law. There is no word yet on what will happen on the Hill leading up to the February 26th deadline, but hearings seem likely and litigation is certainly not out of the question. Stay tuned.
Just last month, DC voters approved a ballot initiative (by a margin of more than 2-to-1) to legalize possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use. The only hitch was that because of DC’s special status, the ballot initiative can’t become law until it passes through a 30-day Congressional review period. Until now, most thought that the review period would pass by uneventfully, but that all changed when a last-minute amendment was added Tuesday night to the must-pass federal spending bill. For now, it appears that Congress will indeed block DC’s ballot initiative from becoming law.
Here’s the full text of the amendment: SEC. 809. (a) None of the Federal funds contained in this Act may be used to enact or carry out any law, rule, or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce penalties associated with the possession, use, or distribution of any schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 801 et seq.) or any tetrahydrocannabinols derivative. (b) None of the funds contained in this Act may be used to enact any law, rule, or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce penalties associated with the possession, use, or distribution of any schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 801 et seq.) or any tetrahydrocannabinols derivative for recreational purposes.
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