Clock starts ticking for DC re-legalization

DC re-legalization is effective as of 2/26/2016!

The Washington Post reported that D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson transmitted Initiative 71 to Congress on January 14, 2015, thus starting the 30-day clock during which Congress must act if it wants to stop the initiative from becoming law. Initiative 71 allows for the re-legalization of personal possession and use of cannabis by adults for recreational or other purposes and allows transfer of cannabis between adults without remuneration for up to an ounce. According to the DC Home Rule Act:

such act shall take effect upon the expiration of the 30-calendar-day period (excluding Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays, and any day on which neither House is in session because of an adjournment sine die, a recess of more than three days, or an adjournment of more than three days) beginning on the day such act is transmitted by the Chairman to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President of the Senate. (§602(c) (1))

Thus, after adjusting for days off as described in the statute, Initiative 71 will become effective on Feb 26, 2015, which has since come and gone.

Because of DC’s twisted subservience to Congress, the voters are not allowed to pass initiatives that would affect the District’s budget, over which Congress has final say. Therefore the Initiative was written so as to not have any affect on the budget. This means the Initiative does not allow for legal, regulated sales because that would require expenditures of District funds in order to set up and operate a regulatory apparatus.

It is this weakness in the Initiative that is its strength, as the lack of expenditures makes it immune to Republican attempts to stop the District from implementing Initiative 71 by prohibiting it from spending any money to implement the new law.

Now that the law has been transmitted to Congress, that body has 30 days to pass an Act or Resolution rejecting the law; otherwise it will become effective. If the Congress does reject the new DC law, usually by Resolution, then that Resolution must be signed by the President. If the President vetoes the Resolution then Congress must override the veto with a supermajority, which will be difficult even with this new Congress, especially on this issue (on which Republicans are uncharacteristically split).

The legality of DC’s move is open to question, but as I wrote in a previous post the District’s interpretation is likely to match the court’s. It is increasingly apparent that the wording that allows the District a loophole to slip through was deliberately left in there by Congressional negotiators. If read in context, it is very hard to interpret section 809 without concluding that the District is allowed to use local (District) funds to implement (but not enact) legislation that eases cannabis policy.

Anyway, Congressional haters of cannabis will likely be too distracted by DC Councilman David Grosso’s efforts to confront Congress directly and enact legislation that will set up regulated legal sales of recreational cannabis in defiance of the $1.1 trillion spending bill passed by Congress and signed by the President at the end of 2014. Grosso seems eager to escalate the feud between DC Council and certain irritating gnats in the House.

UPDATE: Initiative 71 is now in effect! Congratulations Washington DC!
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