It is Unlikely That Congress Will Block Making Marijuana Legal in Washington, D.C.

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December 11, 2016
Denver, CO
Eleanor Holmes Norton

At a press conference yesterday, the District of Columbia’s congressional delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton, urged her colleagues to respect the will of the voters who overwhelmingly approved making marijuana legal in the nation’s capital last week.

Norton was joined by three other congressmen, including Dana Rohrabacher (R-California), who said that attempting to block legal marijuana in D.C., as well as Alaska and Oregon, where voters also approved making marijuana legal last week, would disregard the “fundamental principles” that “Republicans have always talked about,” including “individual liberties,” “limited government,” and “states’ rights and the 10th Amendment.”

In theory, there are some ways that Congress could try to block the process of making marijuana legal in the nation’s capital from happening. It could pass a joint resolution disapproving the initiative. It could also bar the District from spending money to implement the measure. In actuality, however, neither of the two approaches to block Initiative 71 deem promising.

The initiative cannot take effect until after the D.C. Council Chairman, Phil Mendelson, submits it to Congress for review, which he is expected to do when the new Republican Congress is seated in January. Once the D.C. Council chairman submits the initiative, Congress has 30 legislative days to pass a resolution overriding the measure. If a resolution is not enacted by the end of the 30-day period, Initiative 71 automatically becomes law.

“I think a resolution of disapproval is unlikely,” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance. “Overturning a ballot measure passed by 70 percent of the voters doesn’t really look good for the incoming Republican Congress. If the council transmits [the initiative] in January, I think that pretty much reduces or eliminates the chance that Congress will overturn it outright. It just doesn’t fit with what they’re talking about doing, which is rebranding themselves as not being obstructionists.”

Nikolas Schiller, the communications director at the D.C. Cannabis Campaign, which supported Initiative 71, also agrees that the new Republican Congress will not be eager to nix it.

“We believe that a new Republican Congress will not interfere with something that deals solely with personal liberties,” he says.

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