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D.C. Council Chairman: Marijuana Rider Doesn't Block Transmittal to Congress

Mendelson, left, seen here with D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, says he is obligated to transmit the initiative to Congress. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

District of Columbia Council Chairman Phil Mendelson plans to send the D.C. initiative legalizing possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana to Congress in January, and he does not anticipate any confrontation with lawmakers over transmitting the bill.  

"I’m not trying to defy anybody. I’m responsible for transmitting the initiative,” Mendelson said in a phone interview Tuesday. “I have a very clear requirement in the Home Rule Act to transmit the legislation. Congress has the ability to step in when that legislation is transmitted, so I don’t see anything that’s provocative here and I certainly don’t intend any provocation.” But Mendelson could see push-back from Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., who is seeking legal advice on whether the D.C. Council can use funds to transmit the initiative for a 30-day congressional review. Harris' office is attempting to determine whether using funds to transmit the bill would violate a version of his amendment attached to the recent year-end spending bill that prohibits federal and local funds from being used to “to enact any law, rule, or regulation to legalize or reduce penalties associated with the possession, use or distribution” of marijuana.  

Though Mendelson is still determining how the rider affects the initiative, he does not believe it affects his duty to transmit the bill to Congress. He also said he believed the cost of transmittal could be less than $2.  

"I don’t think the amendment prohibits transmittal, and I think the cost of transmitting it is so minor that any preoccupation with it is a gross distortion of priorities," Mendelson said. "And if Mr. Harris is actually concerned about this, he can give me a phone call.”  

In his legislative briefing Tuesday, Mendelson reiterated that he is required to transmit the bill under the Home Rule Act and under a notice from the D.C. Board of Elections. After the Board of Elections certified the election results on Dec. 3, determining that the initiative was approved by 70 percent of D.C. voters, Mendelson received a letter from the board stating that he must transmit the bill for congressional review. Mendelson said he plans to send the bill to Congress in early January.  

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