Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser is being ordered by House Republicans to not go ahead with legalizing marijuana there. Bowser has said that official legalization in Washington D.C. is scheduled to take effect tomorrow. The Republicans have warned Bowser that she will face stiff federal penalties, but they will not take legal action against the city for defying a congressional funding rider.
According to an article in the Washington Post, one key congressman explained that this would be the responsibility of the Justice Department. Republican House member and anti-marijuana advocate Andy Harris said, “I think the attorney general should prosecute people in the District who participate in this under the Anti-Deficiency Act. But according to the article, several city leaders have publicly asked Mayor Bowser to “defy the congressional warning, proceed with legalization and let the federal courts decide the matter if Congress chooses to push it that far.”
The main issue in this whole fiasco relates to a restriction that House Republicans put in a $1 trillion spending package in December. That provision kept D.C. from enacting any new laws to loosen penalties for marijuana. But Mayor Bowser and others feel that the restriction doesn’t apply to the marijuana measure, known as Initiative 71, because it had already been passed by voters a month earlier.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) is the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, whose jurisdiction includes District legislative matters. He was asked if he and his fellow Republicans would pursue a lawsuit. Chaffetz responded, “It’s in the law; it’s crystal clear. If the Mayor and city officials are under any illusion that this would be legal, they are wrong. And there are very severe consequences for violating this provision. You can go to prison for this. We’re not playing a little game here.”
Chaffetz also sent a letter to Bowser that read, “If you decide to move forward with the legalization of marijuana in the District, you will be doing so in knowing and willful violation of the law.”
According to The Washington Post article, “criminal prosecutions under the Anti-Deficiency Act are exceedingly rare, and the prospect that Holder, the appointee of a Democratic president, would arrest a Democratic mayor and her subordinates is even more scant.”
Initiative 71 legalized possession of up to two ounces for D.C. residents and visitors over the age of 21. It also allowed for home cultivation of six plants, possession of marijuana paraphernalia and sharing of the drug.