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Protests Erupt After Congress Plans to Overturn D.C. Marijuana Legalization

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Though D.C. residents voted overwhelmingly to legalize marijuana in November via Initiative 71, Congress is planning to override it. It is doing so with a trillion dollar federal spending bill that contains a sneakily added provision. This “rider” will prevent D.C. from enacting any measure that violates federal drug laws.

It also appears to prevent D.C. officials from setting up a system to legally sell and tax marijuana (though many marijuana advocates view the legalization of marijuana troublesome due to the fact that it opens it up to state taxation).

The Congressional move-pushed unsurprisingly by Republicans-sparked protests on
Wednesday made up of marijuana advocates, civil liberties champions, and concerned citizens. Kimberly Perry, president of D.C. Vote, an organization dedicated to electoral representation in the capital, said

*“This isn’t about marijuana, this isn’t about drug policy, this is about local democracy.”*

But lawmakers are not concerned with local governance. Republican Andy Harris of Maryland, who first proposed the stifling provision, spouted typical anti-marijuana talking points:

*“The takeaway is that if Congress passes this amendment, it will have taken the position that it is way too early to proceed with legalization in the District of Columbia, and I think that most people think we should wait for more scientific evidence from states that have attempted legalization,”*

He added that:

*“The fact is the Constitution gives Congress the ultimate oversight about what happens in the federal district.”*

However, there is a great deal of push back. The protests commenced Wednesday with a march from the Department of Justice to Capitol Hill, with some protesters prepared to face arrest.

Adam Eidinger, who sponsored the 57,000 signature petition to put Initiative 71 on the ballot in November, said:

*“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.”*

Protesters held a sit-in at Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s office and vowed to continue speaking out. Reid, however, never showed. Protesters left, dispersing into a much larger crowd of police brutality protesters.

Local lawmakers and officials are also outraged at the underhanded congressional move. D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said:

*“I can’t believe they did this. We don’t need to be locking these people up.”*

Mayor Vincent T. Gray’s noted that:

*“This is just another example of walking on the District of Columbia’s rights. We’ve got citizens who have spoken on this issue. We’ve got other states that have spoken on this issue, and the District of Columbia is the only entity that is being subjected to this.”*

There is little hope that the Congressional move can be overturned as federal spending bills always pass. Though there may be some loopholes, legalization advocates are not optimistic.

However, city lawyers are confident that even if legalization is banned, the decriminalization bill that Mayor Gray signed earlier this year will not be invalidated. Either way, it is remarkable that Congress continues to masquerade as a representative body. Its members tout the power of democracy and voting when up for re-election, then flout the will of the people once safely back in office.

Included in the very same omnibus bill are a re-authorization for spying on Americans and more lenient rules for campaign contributions and Wall Street. Actions like these are exactly why the American people have little to no faith in the legislative body. When lawmakers not only deliberately ignore the will of the people, but do it in a surreptitious way-by slipping it into a sure-to-pass-bill-there is no such thing as representative democracy.

As Independent D.C. Council member, David Grosso, who previously authored a bill to legalize marijuana in D.C., said:

*“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.”*

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“Protests Erupt After Congress Plans to Overturn D.C. Marijuana Legalization”