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Ron Johnson Open to Hearing on Marijuana Legalization

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., likely the next chairman of the Senate committee with oversight over Washington, D.C., said Thursday that he would like to hold a hearing on marijuana legalization.  

When asked about his view of marijuana legalization in D.C., Johnson told a group of reporters, "What we can do is we can hold hearings to find out how it's all working, to highlight the issues, highlight the problem, try and define the problems. So I think that's what we should really do."  

Johnson, who will likely be the next chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said such a hearing would focus on how legalization in other states has unfolded. In November, nearly two-thirds of D.C. voters elected to legalize up to 2 ounces of marijuana for recreational use in the District for adults over the age of 21. After the election results are certified on Dec. 3, the bill will be sent transmitted to Congress for a 30-day review process.  

Johnson said, in general, he supports more local autonomy for D.C., but refrained from taking a position on whether the District should be allowed to legalize the drug.  

"I have no comment on that right now. That's a relatively complex issue, dealing with state law and federal law and we've got these experiments — we're not enforcing federal law," said Johnson. "I guess right now I'm just sitting here watching the states' experiment and seeing how that happens. If anything I'd want to use the committee to hold a hearing, see how it's working."  

Four states have legalized marijuana so far, which conflicts with federal law  that criminalizes the drug. Since the D.C. marijuana referendum is subject to congressional review, lawmakers could be voting on whether to support a less stringent drug policy than the Drug Enforcement Administration.  

On the House side, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, the chairman-elect for the Oversight and Government Reform panel, which has jurisdiction over the District, said he opposes marijuana legalization.  

“The recreational consumption of marijuana is not something I’ve been in favor of," said Chaffetz. He suggested Congress could address the issue before he takes the gavel, saying, "There's not much I can do about it."  

However, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson is expected to transmit the bill to Congress in January, meaning Chaffetz will have to confront the issue as chairman.  

During the 60-day review process, Congress could opt to pass a resolution of disapproval against the referendum. But lawmakers are less likely to take that route, since it would have to be passed by both chambers and signed by the president, who has warned against intervening in District affairs in the past. Congress is more likely to block legalization through an appropriations rider .  

Johnson said he is also personally against the recreational use of marijuana but believes it's an issue that should be determined by states. However, he did not indicate whether the same determination should be granted to the District.  

"I can't support it myself because I think it sets a really bad example for young children," Johnson said. "But states are doing that. Let the voters decide ... Again, I like local control of those issues and then what we can do here in Congress is hold hearings, find out, how's it working? What kind of problems are there?"  

When it was pointed out the voters in D.C. did decide to legalize marijuana, Johnson said, "Apparently," and walked away.  

Correction 10:55 a.m. A previous version of this story misstated the length of the congressional review process . It is 30 days.  

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