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Ahead of D.C. Marijuana Legalization Standoff, Group Calls Out Congress

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

As Washington, D.C., leaders gear up for a legal fight over marijuana legalization, one advocacy group is calling out members of Congress from both parties for not protecting the will of District voters.  

DC Vote, a group advocating for District autonomy, launched a digital project Wednesday called “30 Days of Disapproval.” The group is urging D.C. residents to vote online to disapprove of members of Congress who voted for the year-end spending package, which included a policy rider aimed at blocking an initiative legalizing small amounts of marijuana in the District. Each day, the group will spotlight one lawmaker and residents will vote for the member that deserves the most disapproval at the end of the week. The initiative is a play on the 30-day congressional review period, which begins when D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson transmits the initiative to Congress. Under the Home Rule Act, Congress has 30 days to review D.C. laws and can reject those laws by passing a joint resolution of disapproval. Mendelson is expected to transmit the marijuana initiative this month.  

"Instead of Congress doing the disapproving, this time American citizens get to disapprove of their actions to overturn a local election and violate the core principles of American democracy,” Kimberly Perry, DC Vote’s executive director, said in a release.  

Though Mendelson believes it is his duty to transmit the initiative despite the rider, which blocks federal and local funds from enacting any laws to legalize or reduce penalties for marijuana, Rep. Andy Harris said Tuesday it is unclear whether Mendelson can legally do so.  

“In some readings [the amendment] could actually affect the transmittal,” the Maryland Republican told CQ Roll Call outside the House floor. “And I will have to talk with [House Oversight] Chairman [Jason] Chaffetz about whether or not they feel the transmittal is legitimate. That’s potentially possible, but that’s going to be up to the chairman of the committee and the leadership as to whether they feel if even that’s legal.”  

Harris will be one of the lawmakers listed for disapproval, but he was not among the first three members up in week one. That distinction went to newly re-elected Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio; Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.; and House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky.  

But next week, Harris will be featured along with House Appropriations ranking member Nita M. Lowey, D-N.Y.; Democratic National Committee Chairwoman and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla.; Rep. John L. Mica, R-Fla.; and Senate Appropriations ranking member Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md. DC Vote plans to alert local media outlets when their local representative is on the disapproval list, in an effort to increase pressure from members' home districts to protect D.C. interests.  

As residents display their disapproval of certain members, lawmakers could also be squaring off with D.C. leaders over the marijuana initiative. Though the amendment was intended to block the initiative from moving forward, D.C. leaders adopted an interpretation championed by Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton , D-D.C., that argues the initiative can move forward because it is “self-enacting.”  

Mayor Muriel Bowser and D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine have both aligned with that interpretation and have said they plan to ensure that the initiative, which was overwhelmingly approved by D.C. voters, will be implemented. During an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Jan. 4, Bowser did not rule out suing Congress over the initiative.  

“We’re going to explore every option to get our law enforced,” Bowser said.  

Related: Marijuana Legalization in D.C.: What Happened and What Happens Next D.C. Council Chairman: Marijuana Rider Doesn’t Block Transmittal to Congress Enacted or Not Enacted? On D.C. Pot Initiative, It Depends on Whom You Ask The 114th: CQ Roll Call's Guide to the New Congress Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.