DC Voted to Legalize Marijuana. Congress Should Not Overrule It.

DC Voted to Legalize Marijuana. Congress Should Not Overrule It.

DC Voted to Legalize Marijuana. Congress Should Not Overrule It.

Congress’s spending bill overrides Washington’s vote to legalize marijuana and thwarts the will of the people.


There is every good reason for members of Congress to vote against the continuing resolution that has evolved into a $1.1 trillion, nine-month omnibus spending bill—“Cromnibus” is Washington-speak.

As it currently stands, the measure includes a rewrite of rules for derivatives trading that Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren says “would let derivatives traders on Wall Street gamble with taxpayer money and get bailed out by the government when their risky bets threaten to blow up our financial system.”

It includes another provision that rewrites campaign-finance rules so radically that Democracy 21’s Fred Wertheimer says would, if enacted, be “the most destructive and corrupting campaign-finance provisions ever enacted by Congress.”

It reworks pension rules in a way that Teamsters President James Hoffa says could “slash the pensions of thousands of retirees who worked years for a pension that they thought would provide them financial security in their retirement years.”

But even if this measure did not include that fiercely wrongheaded provisions, it would still deserve a “no” vote because of its direct assault on democracy.

In November, the District of Columbia voters chose by a 70-30 margin to permit marijuana to be consumed and grown in Washington.

That was hardly a radical move. The proposal had broad support from legalization advocates, criminal-justice reformers and local officials. And, of course, Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska have all backed similar measures.

Unfortunately, because the District of Columbia is not a state, and because some members of Congress are determined to oversee it with all the flexibility of King George III’s oversight of the colonies, the omnibus bill will, if passed, overrule the will of the people of Washington.

A provision added the hastily cobbled together and minimally debated measure would, according to The Washington Post, “[prohibit] the District from using any of its own funds or federal funds to enact or implement drug laws that are weaker than federal ones, which still classify marijuana in the most dangerous class.”

In other words, because of congressional meddling, the voters of the District of Columbia could be denied the ability to govern their own affairs in a way that voters in every state are allowed to do.

This is, as The New York Times notes, an example of “the ‘plantation’ oversight powers long exploited by Congress to checkmate home rule in Washington.”

The District of Columbia should be a state. If it was, Congress could not meddle quite so crudely as it has with local democracy.

But, until that statehood step is taken, responsible members of Congress must recognize and respect that an omnibus spending bill that overrules the will of the people of America’s capital city is entirely unacceptable.

This is not a local issue.

This is an American democracy issue with national consequences—especially at a time when so many popular initiatives are being threatened with pre-emption by right-wing and corporate interests operating at the state and national levels.

DC council member David Grosso and other local officials are precisely right to urge Americans to tell their representatives to take a stand for democracy and refuse to back an omnibus bill that thwarts the will of DC voters.

“Members of Congress of both parties are willing to sell us down the river to get some of their priorities through,” says Grosso. “Hopefully, people will stand up this time and say, ‘Enough is enough.’ ”


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