Can House Republicans “defund” marijuana legalization in DC if it doesn’t cost anything?

House Republicans want to block a marijuana legalization law in Washington, DC, that local voters overwhelmingly passed in November, multiple Democratic and Republican sources reportedly told the National Journal. The House language would ban DC from using local funds to carry out the legalization measure, according to the report. DC’s marijuana legalization measure allows adults 21 and older to possess up to two ounces of marijuana, grow up to six plants, and give marijuana to other adults 21 and older. The measure doesn’t legalize, regulate, or tax sales, because voter initiatives in DC can’t have a direct impact on the local budget. The House Republican measure might not work A marijuana plant. (Shutterstock) The House provision would block DC from using local funds to carry out its legalization measure. The problem with this idea is DC’s legalization initiative costs nothing; it actually saves the district money to not enforce laws against marijuana possession. The ballot measure actually couldn’t cost money in the first place. DC ballot initiatives, by law, can’t have a direct impact on the local budget. So even if the House manages to pass the provision and it gets approval from the Senate and White House, it’s unclear whether it would mean much for DC’s legalization law. It’s possible the measure could go forward without local funds — as long Congress doesn’t block the initiative during a separate 30-day review period. This is similar to issues House Republicans faced when they tried to block a decriminalization law passed by the city council earlier this year. The council’s decriminalization measure, approved in March, didn’t go as far as the ballot initiative the voters approved in November — the earlier legislation left in place a civil fine for marijuana possession that would be effectively eliminated by the ballot measure. The problem with this idea is DC’s legalization initiative costs nothing The only parts of the decriminalization law that required funding were the remaining penalties for possession and the enforcement of a public-use ban. Eliminating the previous criminal penalties, by contrast, costs nothing. So by preventing funding for DC’s decriminalization law, House Republicans could have effectively ended enforcement for the few penalties that remain. That would have left DC with decriminalization but no ability to enforce civil fines or jail time — something that looks very similar to outright legalization. We never got to see how that would have played out. The anti-decriminalization measure never passed the full Congress after the White House threatened a veto. It’s an entirely different story if DC Council passes a law that would tax and regulate the sales of marijuana, which Mayor-elect Muriel Bowser supports. That would cost money, and Congress could block a tax-and-regulate bill under its budgetary supervision of DC’s local laws. The provision would need approval from the Senate and White House The White House. (Ei Kebir Lamrani / AFP via Getty Images) Any action by the House would also require approval by the Senate and White House to become law — and neither seem receptive to the idea. President Barack Obama is a strong supporter of letting DC shape its own laws. And Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), who’s poised to take over the Senate subcommittee that oversees DC, told Roll Call that he’s against the federal government telling DC it can’t legalize pot. Read more: 6 questions about Washington, DC, statehood you were too disenfranchised to ask.


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