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Norton Raises Questions About D.C. Pot Rider in 'Cromnibus'

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 4:45 p.m. | Just hours after news broke that the House and Senate spending package included a rider targeting the District of Columbia’s marijuana policy , Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., raised questions as to how the rider’s specific language would actually affect the District.  

The rider prohibits 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 in D.C. At issue is whether the ballot initiative approved by nearly 65 percent of D.C. voters in November would need to be enacted after Dec. 11, when the new spending bill would take effect.  

In the opinion of the House Appropriations Committee, the referendum is required to undergo a 30-day congressional review period before it can become law. Both Kentucky’s Harold Rogers, R-Ky., and New York’s Nita M. Lowey, the top House Republican and Democrat on the panel, concur that the spending agreement would prohibit federal and local funds from being used to implement the referendum.  

But, after learning Norton's interpretation of the amendment, Lowey switched her position. According to her spokesman, Lowey agrees with Norton that the rider should not block the referendum from going into effect.  

The District attorney general and the D.C. Council have yet to weigh in on the issue. But under Norton’s logic, the initiative to legalize limited-home cultivation and possession of up to 2 ounces of marijuana was “self-executing.”  

Norton said she is disputing what she characterized as a Republican interpretation of the bill in a statement about 12 hours after the text was released. She said, “based on a plain reading of the bill and principles of statutory interpretation, the District may be able to carry out its marijuana legalization initiative.”  

Norton points out that the omnibus rider does not block D.C. from “carrying out” enacted marijuana policies, including decriminalization. She argues the initiative did not require enactment of any rules for its implementation, and can proceed.  

But marijuana activists are still sifting through the language and trying to determine its effects on the District’s pot policy.  

”I think it’s very unclear just now and we are still working with congressional allies to try and find out the exact implications of the language,” said Michael Collins, policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance, who has been lobbying Congress not to interfere in the District's affairs. “We support Congresswoman Norton’s position on this and we’ll be certainly talking to that office about this.”  

Though Norton argues that the rider as it stands might not affect legalization, she is making a push Wednesday to ensure that D.C. pot policy is left alone by introducing an amendment at a House Rules Committee meeting to strike the rider from the spending package altogether.  

Marijuana and District autonomy advocates were planning rallies on the Hill Wednesday to call on lawmakers to remove the rider from the appropriations package. Activists from DC Vote along and other organizations gathered at Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s office and planned to stay there until the Nevada Democrat pledges to remove the amendment. Activists from the D.C. Cannabis campaign are also planning to march to Capitol Hill Wednesday evening after rallying against police brutality at the Department of Justice.  

This post was updated to reflect Lowey changed her position on the rider's effect. Related: 'Cromnibus' Would Bar D.C. From Legalizing Recreational Pot 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.