Congress may have tripped in effort to stop marijuana legalization

WASHINGTON — In an effort to step in and stop the District from legalizing recreational marijuana, some in Congress may have tripped instead.

During the 11th-hour scramble to pass an omnibus spending bill before the lights went out, House Republicans inserted language targeting D.C. marijuana laws.

The bill includes language that says: “none of the funds contained in this Act may be used to enact any law, rule, or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce penalties associated with the possession, use, or distribution of any schedule I substance.”

That was to be it. Pot legalization dead.

Except District leaders aren’t so sure the bill does anything at all.

The reason? Allowing someone to grow a plant or use marijuana at home doesn’t require money, from the omnibus bill or otherwise.

“There’s no money involved on our part [in legalization] whether a person commits a crime or not,” says Phil Mendelson, the council chairman.

“I’m not quite sure what Congress was intending with their language,” he says.

Setting up a tax and regulatory system would be a different matter, but D.C. has yet to do that.

A second debate concerns the word “enact.”

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton believes the voters’ approval of Initiative 71 accomplished that. Mendelson suggests it could also have come with the certification by the D.C. Board of Elections.

While the impact and legal questions are in doubt, Mendelson plans to transmit the marijuana law to Congress next month, as D.C. is required to do.

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