Fine Print in Congressional Budget Deal Set to Overturn DC’s Marijuana Legalization Referendum

In a rush to prevent a government shutdown, federal lawmakers in the House of Representatives and the Senate reached an agreement on a $1.1 trillion budget deal to fund the government, which, as it happens, includes a rider that would overturn Washington DC's voter-approved recreational marijuana legalization referendum.

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Barry Donegan
Barry Donegan is a writer, musician, and pro-liberty political activist living in Nashville, TN. Donegan served as Director-at-Large of the Davidson County Republican Party from 2009-2011 and was the Middle Tennessee Regional Coordinator over 30 counties for Ron Paul's 2012 Presidential Campaign. Follow him at facebook.com/barry.donegan and twitter.com/barrydonegan

In November, a strong majority of voters in Washington DC approved a referendum that would legalize marijuana for recreational use. However, federal lawmakers, in a rush to find consensus on a budget in an effort to avoid a government shutdown, may have just taken the first steps to override the will of DC voters on that issue. According to The Washington Post, the Republican House and Democratic Senate have reached an agreement on a $1.1 trillion budget to fund the government until next September, and it includes among its 1600 pages a provision that would de-fund the implementation of DC’s marijuana legalization referendum.

While local officials run most of the day-to-day business of government in Washington DC, Congress retains the authority to overrule their decisions. A summary of provisions in the newly agreed-upon spending bill, published by the House Appropriations Committee and cited by Christian Science Monitor, notes that the bill “prohibits both federal and local funds from being used to implement a referendum legalizing recreational marijuana use in the District.” However, the legislation sends mixed messages in that it would also order the Drug Enforcement Administration to stop busting farmers for hemp in states that have legalized it and require the Department of Justice to take a hands-off approach to states that have legalized medical marijuana.

Voters, elected officials, and activists in the nation’s capital are outraged at the notion that a referendum approved by voters would be overturned by federal lawmakers. DC’s non-voting congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton bashed Democrats for supporting the provision overturning her city’s marijuana legalization referendum, saying, in comments to The Washington Post, “I certainly don’t know why Democrats would agree to block legalization while we still control the White House, we still control the Senate — and who knows, they may even need Democratic votes to pass this.”

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DC Councilman David Grosso said, taking a shot at the GOP-led house, “It is disheartening and frustrating to learn that once again the District of Columbia is being used as a political pawn by the Congress… To undermine the vote of the people — taxpayers — does not foster or promote the ‘limited government’ stance House Republicans claim they stand for; it’s uninformed paternalistic meddling.”

The Huffington Post quoted Maryland Republican Congressman Andy Harris, a supporter of the provision, as saying, “I am glad Congress is going to, in a bipartisan way, uphold federal law to protect our youth by preventing legalization in Washington, DC.”

Adam Eidinger, a DC-area pro-legalization activist who gathered signatures for the referendum, told The Washington Post, “I’m ready for some civil disobedience. If you’re going to overturn an election, you might as well say something before it’s done.” Eidinger says that local activists are organizing a protest march on Wednesday night that will run from the Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice building to Capitol Hill and that some attendees may be willing to face arrest.

The budget bill, which was revealed last night, is expected to pass before the end of the week. Though President Obama has yet to signal whether or not he will sign the legislation, McClatchy DC notes that White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest praised the bill on the President’s behalf.

On the subject of the federal government’s mixed messages on marijuana, Ben Swann released a report in September on the fact that the federal government refuses to classify cannabis as medicine while at the same time holding the patent on cannabis as medicine.

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