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'Cromnibus' Would Ban D.C. From Legalizing Recreational Pot

The District will have to grapple with a new marijuana rider. ( Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Congress would block the District of Columbia from legalizing marijuana for recreational use, but preserve its decriminalization law, under the spending package released Tuesday night.  

In the D.C. appropriations section, which allocates $680 million of federal funds to the District, is an amendment barring federal and local funds from being used “to enact any law, rule, or regulation to legalize or reduce penalties associated with the possession, use or distribution” of marijuana. The language would ban the city from enacting Referendum 71, a ballot initiative overwhelmingly approved by voters in November. The pot rider is similar to an amendment offered by Rep. Andy Harris, D-Md., which was being discussed in appropriations negotiations. That would have reversed a D.C. law making possession of less than an ounce of pot a civil offense and undone D.C.’s medical marijuana program, according to GOP sources. Under the introduced language, decriminalization and the medical program would be left alone.  

Activists supporting marijuana legalization and D.C. autonomy will likely be outraged at the amendment, but its fate may be sealed. On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said of the rider, “If they put it in there, it’s going to be hard to take it out over here, but I oppose it.”  

Marijuana-rights advocates may be pleased to see a provision in the spending agreement that prevents the Justice Department from interfering with state laws on medical pot. The measure to slash funds for Drug Enforcement Agency raids in D.C. and 32 states with medical marijuana programs was approved by the House in an unusual bipartisan vote this spring. In positive news for advocates of Home Rule, the package to fund the government through September 2015 does not include a pro-gun amendment from Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., that would have dismantled D.C.’s gun control laws. Local officials have still had to grapple with changes to handgun laws since a federal judge declared the city’s ban on carrying handguns unconstitutional this summer.  

In addition to the marijuana rider, the D.C. appropriations package also contains a number of other riders that prohibit funds for certain social policies in the District. The bill bars federal funds from being used for the salaries or expenses of a shadow senator or representative (elected officials who effectively serve as unpaid lobbyists for statehood) and for safe needle distribution. Federal and local funds can also not be used for an “abortion except in the cases of rape or incest or if necessary to save the life of the mother.”  

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