After the District moved forward with its legalization of marijuana last week overobjections from Congress, the leading opponent of the legalization measure lobbed an accusation at the residents of the capital city: ingratitude.
Last Tuesday, the chairman of the House committee that oversees the District of Columbia warned D.C. officials that they could go to prison if they insisted on implementing Initiative 71, the marijuana legalization measure that voters approved by an overwhelming margin last November. "There are very severe consequences," Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) toldThe Washington Post. "You can go to prison for this. We're not playing a little game here."
Marijuana prohibitionists in Congress say District of Columbia officials may face years in prison for allowing legalization of the drug in the nation’s capital - but experts say it’s highly unlikely Mayor Muriel Bowser and her colleagues are headed to the slammer.
At issue is the disputed meaning of an amendment that passed Congress in December prohibiting the spending of funds to "enact" laws that legalize possession of marijuana for recreational use. Under one interpretation, district leaders are eligible for two years in prison. Under the other, they are not.
The battle between Congress and the District of Columbia over its new voter approved marijuana legalization initiative may seem esoteric at first blush. That is because the current debate centers on when the District law was deemed enacted in order to determine whether it has violated a Congressional restriction on use of funds to "enact any law, rule, or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce penalties associated with" controlled substances.
Marijuana possession has now been legal in the District of Columbia for more than 12 hours, and the business of the city appears to be proceeding much as usual.
That certainly seemed to be the case on Capitol Hill around midday Thursday, where eyes did not appear to be appreciably redder and snack food inventories hardly seemed depleted.
But it's looking increasingly likely that the District's voter-approved experiment with legal pot will continue at least through September, despite the determination of some Republican members of Congress to block the measure.
Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser defied congressional Republicans and implemented D.C.'s new local law allowing its residents to smoke marijuana.
In implementing the new pot laws that went into effect Thursday, Bowser rebuffed two influential House Republicans who'd warned her that she'd be breaking federal law -- and risking retribution.
"We would encourage the Congress to not be so concerned with overturning what 7-in-10 voters said should be the law in the District of Columbia," Bowser said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon.
Many D.C. residents are cheering — or eating Cheetos — now that it's legal for them to toke up in their homes. But the marijuana law rests on tenuous legal footing, and some Republicans in Congress say D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser should be locked up for legalizing marijuana after Congress forbade the council from doing so.
Maryland Congressman Andy Harris says if one of his fellow Republicans captures the White House in 2016, he hopes they revisit Bowser's actions and prosecute her.
Some Congressional Republicans said Thursday that they would increase their efforts to prevent residents here from possessing small amounts of marijuana, which became legal in Washington at midnight, and warned that the city would face numerous investigations and hearings should the mayor continue her practice of telling them to please find something else to worry about.
It's now legal to smoke pot in the nation's capital, but you can't do so in public and you still can't buy it legally. Despite the restrictions that are greater than other jurisdictions that have legalized marijuana, many advocates of the voter-approved law say it is symbolic in many other ways.
KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
After staring down congressional Republicans who had threatened her with prison, Mayor Muriel E. Bowser helped usher in legal pot in the District this week with minimal fuss. But the work actually began 11 months ago in a Mount Pleasant coffee shop, when she struck a deal with marijuana advocates.