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D.C. Responds to Marijuana Investigation

Bowser's office sent a legal brief to Congress last week. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The District of Columbia government is in the process of responding to a congressional investigation into the enactment and implementation of the voter-passed marijuana legalization initiative.  

According to a spokesperson for the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, the committee staff received a response from D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser on March 11 outlining the District's position on the initiative. The committee also received a number of documents, but noted it is only a fraction of the documents it expects to obtain from the D.C. government.  

The committee received “some of the documents per our request but we don’t have everything,” spokeswoman Melissa Subbotin told CQ Roll Call. She could not go into detail about the nature of those documents due to the ongoing investigation. Subbotin said the committee and D.C. government are having continuing discussions about what information will be provided.  

A Bowser administration official said the response was “a legal brief outlining the District’s position as to the legality of the implementation" of the initiative that legalized marijuana. The official declined to go into detail about the information the mayor's office provided Congress, and said conversations with committee staff were ongoing.  

The mayor's office submitted the legal brief after Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, and Subcommittee on Government Operations Chairman Mark Meadows, R-N.C., sent a Feb. 25 letter to Bowser  warning against the District government moving forward with marijuana legalization and announcing a congressional investigation.  

Both lawmakers' committees have jurisdiction over D.C., and they called on the District to disclose employee information, spending figures and communications regarding legalization by March 10.  

At issue is whether a rider attached to the year-end spending package blocked the marijuana initiative from taking effect. The rider barred D.C. from spending local and federal funds to enact a law legalizing or reducing penalties for marijuana.  

But the D.C. government argued the initiative was enacted when the Board of Elections certified election results on Dec. 3, which was before the rider was signed into law on Dec. 16.  

Congressional Republicans say the initiative is only enacted after it is transmitted to Congress and passes a 30-day congressional review period, so the rider does block the initiative.  

In their letter, Chaffetz and Meadows requested documents "related to enactment." Because the D.C. government and the congressmen disagree on the enactment date, that could lead to a disagreement over which and how many documents are sent to Congress.  

When the lawmakers announced their investigation, D.C. officials stressed they intended to review the lawmakers' request and cooperate with the investigation. After news of the investigation broke, the District government took a stand against congressional opposition , and held a news conference stating  they would move forward with legalization on Feb. 26, despite warnings that doing so could break the law.  

"We are collaborating, working together, and of course, as lawyers for the city, we’re going to make sure that we cooperate with Congress’ inquiry and take it from there,” D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine told a small group of reporters after a Feb. 25 news conference.  

The D.C. Council also sent information to the Capitol on March 11, in response to another letter from Chaffetz and Meadows  requesting information about a roundtable discussion the council held on Feb. 9 on regulating the tax and sales of marijuana. Members of Congress and the D.C. government agree that the rider blocks the D.C. from implementing a regulatory system for marijuana sales, and the lawmakers asked the D.C. Council to explain how the discussion did not violate the law and requested a list of any D.C. employee who participated in the event.  

Council Chairman Phil Mendelson laid out the argument that the roundtable did not violate the law, including a memo from Racine, in his response, which was obtained by CQ Roll Call. Mendelson noted that the Oversight staff agreed to consider limiting the employee disclosure to council members, rather than council employees who participated in the discussion.  

"We are concerned that the disclosure of Council staffers' names may cause them or their families to feel intimidated," Mendelson wrote in the letter. Mendelson also said he would be happy to meet with Chaffetz and Meadows, writing, "Indeed, a meeting might be more useful to you."  

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