A D.C. Council official on Tuesday quietly transmitted to Congress a measure that would legalize the possession of marijuana, setting off a 30-day congressional review period and defying Republicans to stop the city from implementing the measure.
A Council staffer delivered Initiative 71, which legalizes the possession of up to two ounces and home cultivation of up to six plants, to Speaker of the House John Boehner and Vice President Joe Biden, who serves as president of the U.S. Senate. The initiative was approved by 70 percent of D.C. voters on Nov. 4.
The transmittal kicks off the traditional 30-day congressional review period that all D.C. laws go through before taking effect. If no disapproval resolution is passed within those 30 days — which are counted on those days when either the House or Senate is in session — the initiative will be considered approved by Congress. The Council has set that date as Feb. 26.
Last year, a bill dropping criminal penalties for the possession of less than one ounce of marijuana in D.C. made it through Congress unscathed, despite an attempt by Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) to block it through a spending bill.
But more than the usual transmittal, this one may signal the start of a broader battle between Republicans and D.C. officials over local control and congressional power. That's because many Republicans insist that they blocked Initiative 71 in December, when a spending bill was passed that included language forbidding the city from spending any money to enact laws decreasing penalties for the possession, use or sale of marijuana.
D.C. officials say that the budget rider does not affect Initiative 71 because it is "self-executing" — it was considered enacted upon approval by D.C. voters. D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, Attorney General Karl Racine and Mayor Muriel Bowser have taken this position, largely to the chagrin of Republicans like Harris, who say that the initiative is only formally enacted after the congressional review period concludes.
Harris' office did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Last week, Council member David Grosso (I-At Large) re-introduced a bill that would allow the sale of marijuana in retail outlets, a move he admitted was made in part to challenge the congressional prohibition passed in December.
"Enough is enough. We need to move forward whether Congress said that we should or shouldn’t, and do right by the people of D.C.," he said.