Washington, DC: District Officials Move Forward To Enact Municipal Depenalization Initiative

District of Columbia city officials this week moved forward with their intentions to implement a voter-approved municipal initiative depenalizing marijuana possession and cultivation offenses.

On Tuesday, city officials confirmed that Initiative 71 was transmitted to Congress for review. Under federal law, all District laws are subject to a 30-day review process by Congress, during which time members may take action to halt the law’s implementation.

Speaking to Roll Call this week, House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said that language previously adopted by Congress in a December 2014 spending bill already prohibits DC officials from implementing I-71 and, thus, no further action by Congress is necessary. However, several District officials – including DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson – said that the federal provision in question in no way blocks city officials from enacting the new law.

“The District’s examination agrees with our analysis that the initiative was enacted when voters approved it and will take effect at the end of the 30-day congressional review period,” Del. Norton said in a statement.

Chairman Mendelson agreed, saying, “I happen to believe that the initiative was enacted so I think there’s no question that after the 30-day review it will be law.”

The District of Columbia Attorney General’s office has not yet commented in regard to how the District will respond if Congress does not address the initiative during the review process, Roll Call reported.

In November, 70 percent of District voters approved I-71, which removes criminal and civil penalties regarding the adult possession of up to two ounces of cannabis and/or the cultivation of up to six plants.

Separate DC municipal legislation – ‘The Marijuana Legalization and regulation Act’ – which seeks to regulate commercial cannabis production and retail sales, is also pending before the Council. If enacted, this legislation would also go before lawmakers for Congressional review and likely would force a federal challenge.

34 thoughts

  1. Will the republican congress actually review it or just strike it down and bully those in the same party who wants it implemented?

  2. Power to the people!

    Power to the people – Right on!!!

    Prohibition is just so friggin’ stupid! As if most of us don’t already know it, Nancy Grace has been in the news recently appearing as stupid as ever with her anti-marijuana agenda. OMG – What an ignorant b@itch!!!

  3. well I am more then excited to see the federal governments response on it. I have a feeling we will see many debates play out in February. But eric holder needs to step up and say something, the Obama administration cant keep ducking this issue! someone speak up!

  4. Way to go Eleanor! Looks like a prohibitionist bluff; Even a Congress purchased by greed is too scared to stand up to our legalization movement… At least there ‘s a few members in the House with a voice of reason… Even if she doesnt have a vote Norton can still sway opinion, call a bluff and read the law. Good job!

  5. Chaffetz already thinks that the Cramnibus spending bill already bloked it. I think that he’s mistaken here. Spending bills are not considered regulatory, and I think that the courts will be inclined to agree. Otherwise, Any item in any spending bill can be considered regulatory.

  6. So Dr. Andy Harris, a rich, powerful, sanctimonious white guy from a political party constantly touting home rule and federalism takes it upon himself to override the decision of a super-majority of black voters in DC. Harris claims he’s thinking of the children, but 1/3 of black men under the age of 25 have been to jail. This is what Harris and his ilk have done to folks in the inner city. This is what they did to yesterday’s children. People in DC are obviously fed up with it. Who wouldn’t be?

    This type ugly injustice underlies the kinds of clashes between cops and citizens that we’ve seen of late in Ferguson and New York. I think the people of DC and NORML fans should seize on Dr. Harris’ stunt and make it as big an issue as Ferguson.

    I wonder if the same scenario will play out if ‘The Marijuana Legalization and regulation Act’ is passed by the council.

    Incidentally, Dr. Harris is my Representative. He was re-elected with 70% of the vote last November. He’s not going away.

  7. This is what I think:

    Republicans have to get 217 Congress critters on board. The libertarian faction of the Republicans is 49 votes. The Democrats won’t vote for repeal. And a lot of Republicans would rather it didn’t become an election issue in 2016.

    My guess is that the R leadership will not let it come up for a vote for fear of a loss which would weaken the Rs. They know they are losing on the issue and would rather not make that obvious.

    Well that is my guess as a Republican oriented voter.

    This is what the WaPo thinks:

    D.C. Democrats say they are ready to wager that Republicans will be unwilling to get bogged down in overturning the city’s marijuana law, which 7 in 10 voters supported in last month’s election. Doing so, Republican strategists acknowledge, risks exposing a divide between Republican conservatives and libertarians that could prove consequential to the 2016 presidential race.


  8. Mr. Holder (AG)and or Pres. Obama need only re-schedule and at that point the states will set their own regulations….if any

  9. Right GrowingMary, this is just a speedbump on the road toward full legalization. but in the meantime, it sucks that the one time where government really DOES need to get out of people’s lives (as opposed to environmental concerns, for example) and the republicans do a complete about-face on the idea of small government. what self-serving hypocrites!

  10. The end of cannabis Prohibition will only begin the day American Citizens can freely grow their own herbal cannabis…and at no other time….don’t fall for the hype/schemes of greedy pot profiteers…who support inane laws that are restrictive as well as punitive.

    How many terms are going to be rolled out mis-describing Stealth Taxes on cannabis consumers as “fines” ?…???

    Depenalization is just too too rich!…but it’s just another bullshit word…and everyone knows it!

    This ever tightening entangled Gordian Knot will only be severed in Federal Court.

    Who will bring it?

    [Paul Armentano responds: The Initiative 71 scheme removes all criminal and civil penalties on personal marijuana possession and personal home cultivation of specific quantities of cannabis. It imposes no taxes or fines on these acts — hence the use of the term ‘depenalization.’]

  11. Optimism is always a good thing, but, at some point, we have to ground our expectations in reality. Not all democrats will support the implementation of the DC law. Not a house member, but Diane Feinstein (D-CA) comes to mind. Aside, I’m unsure if both houses need to act or not.

    But, in my mind, the next step for legalization if the DC law gets implemented/enacted — pick your term of statutory construction — will be a million man march of cannabis users in the District. Congress does not want this to happen because it will highlight how unpopular drug laws are in what is supposed to be a society valuing individual freedoms and choice. It will also highlight how weird it is to let states choose what federal criminal laws they want to follow (Feds’ say cannabis is schedule I, but it is permissible to burn in the Nation’s capital??).

    This is not to say that U.S. drug laws are not awful for numerous reasons, but there are smart people working for conservative interests who know legalization in the District will be a huge loss for Drug War Hawks.

  12. The Republicans have no one to blame but themselves, having deftly painted themselves into the proverbial corner. They love to bleat about big, intrusive government, and adhering to the will of the voters; now, those notions are creating a conundrum for them on the marijuana issue. They are currently trying to scheme their way out of this; let’s sit back and watch what route they end up taking.

  13. Dear Mr. Armentano,

    What happens when a cannabis consumer is found in possession of more than the legally prescribed amount of cannabis…or when a cannabis consumer grows one plant over the permitted number?

    No penalty?…come again?…specifically…?

  14. @Galileo Galilei – I think you are wrong about that Harris jerk not going away 🙂

    Now that he has exposed himself to be the ignorant prohibitionist that he is I don’t think the people of Maryland will ever vote for him again; at least not the majority!

    Damn Andy Harris and others like him. His actions are Un-American and definitely do not reflect the will of the people.

  15. It would be downright stupid NOT to let D.C. legalization take place. Both the Congress and whatever judges on a court would be going against the zeitgeist, and with momentum propelling ever more states and even countries to legalize both medical marijuana and adult recreational, a ruling in favor of cannabis prohibition emphasizes how out of touch with the people they are, how they really DO NOT value democracy, are right-wing elitists who think that forcing their will on sectors of the population who have already made it clear how they want to be governed.

    I mean, shit, the U.S. might as well have a monarch who overrules the electorate. These prohibitionist elitists thinks how they want to govern people trumps how the people have voted that they want to be governed. So much for government for the people and by the people.

  16. It’s not like the voters in DC who voted for legalization are going to be like, oh yeah, you’re right and we were wrong to vote for legalization, and we’ve changed our minds about cannabis. We won’t wait you out for 10 years to implement like we waited you out for a decade to implement legal medical marijuana.

    Congressional prohibitionist politicians are basically there for the rich or to get rich, if already rich–how many of them are millionaires–there to make sure they stay rich and their friends stay rich and pay as little taxes as possible while raking in as much corporate welfare for the companies they and their pals are invested in. If not already millionaires, then they dangle the we-can-make-you-rich notion out in front of an up and coming have-not or have-not-so-much who then get backed by usually right-wing big business libertarian types to do their bidding in political office. Politicians like these prohibitionists are just there to keep filling their own pockets, which is abundantly clear when they go against the will of the people in these types of situations.

    Just saw on tv that the Supremes are going to decide on gay marriage, which if they’re going with the zeitgeist they’ll toss back to the states and NOT rule that states can ban gay marriage. I mean, shit, if you’re heterosexual the government has age restrictions and restrictions on marrying a close relative but other than that they can’t tell you shit about who you can marry. Semantics as to the term, marriage or civil union? Leave that up to the GLBTG community to decide. It’s like you don’t have to be gay or black or whatever to be for people being treated fairly and equally. Same goes for cannabis community.

  17. The irony! Congress assumed it forced DC to continue Prohibition by banning spending any money on it, but decriminalization doesn’t cost anything.

  18. @Evening Bud;
    “Painted themselves into a corner,” is one way to say it. Going against %70 of the vote in D.C.’s new marijuana policy leaves Republicans open to attack for everything they represent… Defending state’s rights while a Republican controlled Congress (minus the two-thirds majority) :
    1)Passes legislation bluffing to deny D.C.’s decision to depenalize marijuana,
    2)Republican AG’s in Nebraska and Oklahoma sue Colorado for allegedly having to spend more on law enforcement at their borders, in defiance of the most popular and effective drug policy the U.S. has ever seen,
    3) a Democratically appointed (by Obama) Federal Judge Mueller heard evidence over the constitutionality of descheduling marijuana and is prepared to hand a verdict leading up to the state of the Union speech
    4) Obama’s approval ratings go up while Congress’ remain low after issuing executive actions allowing marijuana legalization in Indian Country and immigration,
    5) Eric Holder is retiring his position, and while Republitard Ted Cruz threatens to shut the government down (sigh… Again), Harry Reid was able to get the new AG of the US approved, but he conceded in allowing her confirmation hearing to occur under McConnel’s Senate, scheduled January 28th-29th. She is widely expected to be confirmed. Despite Loretta’s history prosecuting, which included a marijuana case for a single white mother running a lucrative growing operation in NYC, She is also a champion of civil rights for African Americans in her district, and fits into Obama’s agenda to focus on the disproportionate incarceration of minority communities.

    Bottom line; descheduling marijuana wont be enough to solve the socioeconomic imbalance between white police officers and minority communities… But it’s a good start in the right direction. There must be a fundamental change in American drug policy, rooted into the C.S.Act and the creation and roles of the DEA and ONDCP. These are the stakes at hand; Prohibition and the Police State must go; We will conquer violence with education and prevention, and no longer prioritize our budgets for drug enforcement and interdiction. We are talking about getting prisons, schools and hospitals to work for the common good and public interest, and not solely for profit from kickbacks and misdirected federal grants. We are working on putting the “Justice” back into the Justice Department, that no blank check to the DOJ from Congress can further deny accountable oversight (Thanks to cuts to the DEA in the Cromnibus). Ultimately, through reforming marijuana policy in the U.S., we are on the verge of an agricultural and socioeconomic revolution; A renaissance of sustainable innovation, expressing tolerance through education, a reduction in unjustified incarceration and violence, and believe it or not, a newfound respect for law enforcement and bipartisan legislation. And if a Congressman can finally enjoy a piece of what legalization of cannabis has to offer in the great District of Colombia, to help achieve these goals, then so be it, and may Congress get as high as they need to be. 🙂

  19. @Judy

    Much as I’d like to agree with you, I don’t. Maryland is a blue state, but the Representative from my area has always been a right winger — Ehrlich, Sauerbrey, and now Harris. I’m not a political junkie, but I believe this has to do with the farms in this area being recognized as the biggest polluters of the Chesapeake Bay. People are voting their pocketbook.

    Incidentally, he won with a super majority, 70% of the vote. This is the same percentage that the DC decriminalization passed by. I wonder what Dr. Harris would say if someone tried to undo his election with the same type of dirty trick.

  20. Re.: Ultimately, through reforming marijuana policy in the U.S., we are on the verge of an agricultural and socioeconomic revolution, a renaissance of sustainable innovation.–@Julian

    1. Short term: use marijuana policy reform to TERMINATE prevailing rate of youth getting addicted to 40%deadly nicotine $igarette Smoking, 800,000 a year USA, near 20,000,000 worldwide, number one way/opportunity to reduce medical expenditures in the history of our planet.

    SUBSTITUTE other herbs, incl. cannabis and oregano, for tobacco; SUBSTITUTE Vaping for $moking; SUBSTITUTE 25-mg DIY Flexdrawtube Einzelhiefer for 500-mg Joint, 700-mg $igarette etc.

    Long term: intermediary HEMP plantings for anti-erosion and precursor crop to TREES. Land 95% reforested by 2222. Agricultural uses confined to millions of sq. miles of synthetic islands (built out of salvaged crate and pallet and other urban lumber scraps), starting in Carob/bean and other hurricane zones, to permanize safe weather.

    Socio-economic: disappearance of $igarette $moking caused by marijuana policy reforms will greatly reduce drug-taking, alcoholism and other crimenogenic factors which make our society toxic and treacherous. TV-watchers will learn to watch their own hands while shelfmaking and other positive civilian carpentriees, and work is the exercise needed to cure MAD morbidity, anxiety, depression.

    3. Sustainable innovation: cannabis use can help every citizen of every age and gender to remember buried good ideas they had thought up and forgotten before writing down, etc., which combined into a present-moment configuration-discovery produces an invention. Cannabis use best occurs in the exercise room (if you feel you need tuning up before working) and chiefly workroom (where the tools are at the moment you have figured out what to do with them.

    Hint: the first priority 2015-6 might be to use boards and planks to make lofts and $helving to increase $torage area in housing so tenants and co-workers don’t quarrel over whose stuff is highest in the pile, and in Creative Reuse and Recycling centers.

    Cannabis users are advised to learn how to safely use hand-circle-saw, table-saw, plug-in variable speed reversing drills, sanders and other production instruments. Cannabis users will soon establish a reputation for highest-benefit carpentry, manufacturing, repair, maintenance, etc.

  21. Why doesn’t NORML, DPA, et al, challenge the legalization of marijuana prohibition? I am an educated man and I can tell from what I have read of the writings of Russ and others that you all are equally well educated. I thoroughly read the transcripts of Harry Anslinger’s testimony before committees in both houses of Congress and that of Richard Nixon’s Shafer Commission and the testimony of Roger Egeberg who got MJ named a schedule 1 drug. It is clear to anyone with half a brain from these three ‘pieces of evidence’ alone that the US Government has no authority to prohibit cannabis. I also know, as well as you, that these three are only the tip of the iceberg of info on marijuana, its prohibition, and end thereof. Incidentally, Congress passed the Marijuana Tax Stamp Act of 1937 that Tim Leary successfully beat in a US court rather than outright prohibition as Harry Anslinger wanted because they recognized they DID NOT HAVE THE AUTHORITY TO PROHIBIT IT. It seems as though Congress has granted themselves this authority.

    [Editor’s note: Your suggestion has already been pursued by numerous groups (NORML, ACLU, DPA, Zion Coptics and numerous individuals, including trying to get class action lawsuits qualified). To date whether in trial or appellate courts, judges slavishly defer to the will of the legislature when it comes to drug laws. Currently the will of Congress (and every state where voters have not ended cannabis prohibition) still clearly favors status quo of prohibition.

    The 1937 federal law and Anslinger are not legally applicable circa 1970.

    To effectively end cannabis prohibition in the nation (sans states doing it themselves), Congress needs to amend the 1970 Controlled Substances Act.

    Beyond waiting to see if SCOTUS takes the OK/NE lawsuit trying to get the feds to make Colorado return to cannabis prohibition, the other significant legal case that might have an influence on cannabis policy in the US is currently before a federal judge in the eastern district of California. The case is United States v. Pickard, et. al., No. 2:11-CR-0449-KJM]

  22. @ Julian,

    Good points, all. I did call up my Senator, Tom Udall, a couple of days ago, concerning his vote on the XL pipeline. Talked to one of his people in his Albuquerque office. Gave me a chance to also mention that I’d appreciate if Udall supported the notion of MJ legalization in New Mexico. The office fellow typed my points as I spoke, said he’d pass ’em along. Hope Udall pays them some attention. (I feel that, even if he does not push any legislation at this time, at least I’m helping plant the seeds in his mind, lol. Can’t hurt to try.)

  23. “To date whether in trial or appellate courts, judges slavishly defer to the will of the legislature when it comes to drug laws. Currently the will of Congress (and every state where voters have not ended cannabis prohibition) still clearly favors status quo of prohibition.”

    Yes, even though the courts are aware members of congress do not even know what marijuana is, somehow magically they have been granted authority over something they themselves cannot even identify, to just make up shit, make up their own facts, which is not allowed by our constitution.

    The judges are allowing prosecution by hearsay. Which is illegal and an asshole’s game. That is how “justice” works in countries like Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia; so glad our judges feel we will lose something (order?) by removing third world justice from the US courts.

  24. There two large scams going on. First the Bees are no in danger because of neonicotinoids, there are being repeatedly sprayed with them! People say if you put poison in their food, you have poisoned them or at least attempted to poison in the lucky event they find out their food is poisoned before they eat it.

    People then turn around say dumb things like, “Well we did spray some flowering weeds that happen to grow around our crop fields. Okay, you have just put poison in the Bees Food and you should be fined or jailed for a very short period. The idea in to change behavior, not increase punishment and worthlessness.

    Environmentalists have been sold a poison pill. All the replacement toxins are worst for the environment than are the neonicotinoids. Tons more have to be applied, their production causes more damage to the environment. Why are environmentalists now set on Mission Stupid?

    Second thing environmentalist have been working on that will hurt the environment is stopping oil pipe lines. Pipe lines are the safest and more efficient system for distributing oil. The oil from the tar sands will be sold as American’s have no authority over Canadians. But no our environmentalists are on Mission Stupid to make sure the tars sand oil causes as much damage to the environment as possible.

    I believe both of these “False flag causes” is draining so much power from the people that want to protect the environment donating money to them is a waste as they aren’t actually working on protecting the environment. Like send the police after marijuana users… It is just a waster of time, money and effort with no benefits for having done the bad work.

  25. “Just like how sending police after marijuana users does not achieve any benefit for society, it is just police breaking the law actually, attacking neonicotinoids does nothing to protect the environment”.

  26. One requirement for schedule 1 status is no accepted medical use. Anslinger admitted that Mj does indeed have medical uses but claimed it was not better than pharmaceutical drugs. This fact blows the government’s case. Even so, just use Gov Shafer’s recommendation that weed be at least decriminalized and Egeberg’s acknowledgement that no proof existed that marijuana’s schedule 1 status was warranted but if no proof was ever found they could decide to legalize at a later date. In a government “by the people for the people” the authority does not legally exist to prohibit anything and then legalize later if science proved their theory wrong.

    [Editor’s note: “One requirement for schedule 1 status is no accepted medical use.” Primary problem is that the US Court of Appeals in 1994 ruled 2-1 that cannabis should remain in Schedule I…and that is where the state of the law remains sans a new and adverse ruling for the government (which could happen with eastern CA federal court case pending) or that Congress or Executive branch (ie, DOJ) amend the 1970 Controlled Substances Act. Currently there is a petition before the Obama administration signed by a number of governors asking DOJ to lower cannabis’ schedule.]

  27. @MSimon, How to be nice to schizophrenics? LENGTHEN their lives by making it safe and legal to SUBSTITUTE cannabis for tobacco, SUBSTITUTE vaping for $moking, SUBSTITUTE 25-mg single toke for 700-mg $igarette.

  28. The new appointee AG believes alcohol is less harmful than cannabis. Tobacco and alcohol has been under attack from their opponents since they were invented. Cannabis has grown naturally, all around us, without any input from our agrarian pursuits. Imagine what we will be able to do with it once the shackles of ignorance and intolerance are removed.

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