House GOP Wants Omnibus to Block D.C. Pot Law

Republicans push a provision to prevent the city from using its own money to legalize marijuana, but Democrats are opposed.

Medicinal marijuana user Dave Karp smokes marijuana at the Berkeley Patients Group March 25, 2010 in Berkeley, California.
National Journal
Daniel Newhauser
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Daniel Newhauser
Dec. 3, 2014, 8:46 a.m.

House Re­pub­lic­ans are fight­ing to roll back the Dis­trict of Columbia’s re­cently passed marijuana leg­al­iz­a­tion ini­ti­at­ive in the midst of high-level ne­go­ti­ations over the na­tion­al budget, ac­cord­ing to sev­er­al Demo­crat­ic and Re­pub­lic­an sources.

Re­pub­lic­ans are in­sist­ing on in­clud­ing a pro­vi­sion in an om­ni­bus spend­ing bill that would ban the Dis­trict from us­ing loc­al funds to carry out the leg­al­iz­a­tion meas­ure, which was passed over­whelm­ingly by bal­lot ini­ti­at­ive in Novem­ber.

A pro­pos­al to dis­al­low the city from us­ing loc­al funds to carry out the de­crim­in­al­iz­a­tion of marijuana was at­tached to the House Fin­an­cial Ser­vices and Gen­er­al Gov­ern­ment ap­pro­pri­ations bill when it passed the full Ap­pro­pri­ations Com­mit­tee this sum­mer, and this latest meas­ure be­ing dis­cussed would carry a sim­il­ar ban.

House Ap­pro­pri­ations Com­mit­tee Chair­man Har­old Ro­gers has been a vehe­ment op­pon­ent of re­lax­ing drug laws, an­im­ated by the spread of methamphet­am­ine and pre­scrip­tion-drug use in his home state of Ken­tucky. Both he and Speak­er John Boehner fa­vor lim­it­ing the city’s abil­ity to carry out the ini­ti­at­ive, ac­cord­ing to sources in both parties.

“The speak­er ob­vi­ously sup­ports the pro­vi­sions in the House-passed bills, but we are not dir­ectly en­ga­ging with Demo­crats on this is­sue,” said Boehner’s spokes­man, Mi­chael Steel.

Ro­gers’s of­fice de­clined to dis­cuss any spe­cif­ic riders be­ing ne­go­ti­ated, but noted that he sup­ports the bills passed by the House.

“We are fight­ing for all House policy pro­vi­sions,” Ro­gers spokes­wo­man Jen­nifer Hing said.

Re­pub­lic­an Rep. Andy Har­ris of Mary­land, the au­thor of the amend­ment passed this sum­mer, has been push­ing hard to dis­al­low the bal­lot ini­ti­at­ive to go in­to ef­fect, but Dis­trict of Columbia lead­ers and act­iv­ists will be in­furi­ated if Con­gress passes such a fund­ing ban. Loc­al au­thor­it­ies have little say in the mat­ter, however: Con­gress is able to over­ride loc­al law be­cause it has fi­nal say in how the Dis­trict can spend its money.

The White House said in a policy state­ment re­leased after the House passed the Fin­an­cial Ser­vices and Gen­er­al Gov­ern­ment bill that it “strongly op­poses” any ef­forts to dir­ect how the Dis­trict en­forces its laws. Con­gres­sion­al Demo­crats, in­clud­ing Sen­ate Ap­pro­pri­ations Com­mit­tee Chair­wo­man Bar­bara Mikul­ski, are op­posed to the marijuana rider as well, but if Re­pub­lic­ans make the pro­pos­al cent­ral to their de­mands, it re­mains un­cer­tain how hard Demo­crats will fight to keep it from be­com­ing law.

That is be­cause the is­sue is just one of hun­dreds of po­ten­tial ap­pro­pri­ations amend­ments be­ing ne­go­ti­ated, as Con­gress is less than two weeks away from a lapse in gov­ern­ment fund­ing. It is un­clear if the marijuana amend­ment will be in the fi­nal bill that ap­pro­pri­at­ors have said they will un­veil no later than Tues­day.

But in the past, Con­gress has al­lowed riders in­to bills that over­ride loc­ally passed D.C. law. Some cur­rent riders, ones that will al­most cer­tainly be in the fi­nal le­gis­la­tion, lim­it the Dis­trict from spend­ing loc­al funds on abor­tion and fed­er­al funds on needle-ex­change pro­grams.

There would likely be at least some bi­par­tis­an op­pos­i­tion to the rider. This past year, the House passed a few pro-marijuana bills, in­dic­at­ing that the cham­ber may be dis­in­clined to block the Dis­trict from car­ry­ing out its law. In May, the House passed an amend­ment that would ban the Justice De­part­ment from us­ing funds to hinder states from car­ry­ing out med­ic­al marijuana laws. An­oth­er amend­ment passed by the House would keep the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment from im­ped­ing state in­dus­tri­al hemp laws.

But it is not clear that the op­pos­i­tion would be strong enough that mem­bers would vote against a sweep­ing bill fund­ing every as­pect of the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment and face a gov­ern­ment shut­down if it fails.

House and Sen­ate ap­pro­pri­at­ors have been meet­ing every day to whittle down the list of po­ten­tial riders, with oth­er le­gis­la­tion tar­get­ing everything from En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agency reg­u­la­tions, the Af­ford­able Care Act, and the In­tern­al Rev­en­ue Ser­vice to wheth­er the gov­ern­ment will fund high-speed rail in Cali­for­nia.

Even these na­tion­al is­sues have been over­shad­owed in the pub­lic dis­cus­sion over spend­ing ne­go­ti­ations, as some Re­pub­lic­ans have in­sisted the ap­pro­pri­ations pro­cess be used to sty­mie Pres­id­ent Obama’s re­cent ex­ec­ut­ive ac­tion grant­ing work visas to mil­lions of un­doc­u­mented im­mig­rants liv­ing in the United States.

Con­gress must pass ap­pro­pri­ations le­gis­la­tion by Dec. 12.

Since the D.C. Fin­an­cial Con­trol Board ended its activ­it­ies in 2001, Con­gress has mostly left the Dis­trict to gov­ern its own af­fairs. But Con­gress still has the au­thor­ity to tell the city how to spend its money and oc­ca­sion­ally does so, with abor­tion be­ing the most com­mon battle­ground is­sue.

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