President Obama’s $4 trillion budget plan would allow the District to spend its own tax dollars to legalize and regulate marijuana by rolling back restrictions put in place by Republican lawmakers last year.
Congress passed a spending bill in December that blocks the District from spending any money — federal or local tax dollars — to enact legislation that would legalize or reduce penalties associated with the recreational use of marijuana or any other Schedule 1 drugs.
The congressional action leaves the District in the lurch as D.C. residents voted to legalize recreational marijuana but lawmakers have yet to adopt a regulatory scheme that would allow its sale and taxation.
The president’s fiscal 2016 plan, released Monday, would allow city lawmakers to use local funds beginning in October to pay for the legalization and regulation of marijuana. Mr. Obama’s plan slightly alters the wording in the congressional spending bill to restrict the District only from using “federal funds” to enact laws legalizing pot.
With both houses of Congress led by Republicans, Mr. Obama’s budget faces an uphill battle. But marijuana legalization and local democracy advocates hope increased support nationwide for marijuana decriminalization and legalization will make federal lawmakers think twice about altering that portion of the proposal.
“It’s great to see the president taking this subtle but important action to clear the way for the District to sensibly regulate marijuana,” said Tom Angell, chairman of the Marijuana Majority. “Now it remains to be seen whether leaders in Congress will stand with the majority of the American people or if they’ll do everything they can to protect failed prohibition policies.”
The District is still wrangling with Republican members of Congress over the fate of the marijuana legalization initiative. City lawmakers assume the legal stance that Initiative 71 was self-executing and took effect when voters approved it — well ahead of the adoption of a spending bill by Congress. A 30-day congressional review period of the law is winding down, with the initiative estimated to become law on Feb. 26.
But the referendum only sanctions the possession of two ounces or less of the drug and allows residents to grow a small number of their own marijuana plants. Sale of marijuana would remain illegal under Initiative 71, a key point D.C. lawmakers hope to address in future regulation.
The president’s proposal, if kept intact by Congress, could give D.C. lawmakers their first opportunity to enact legislation regulating the sale of marijuana in October. The spending bill adopted by Congress keeps the provisions on marijuana legalization through fiscal 2015, which ends in September.
“We are pleased and encouraged to see the president attempt to correct the unfortunate attack on the District’s local democracy carried out in the 2015 spending bill,” said Kimberly Perry, executive director of DC Vote. “The need for local budget control is apparent as the president also recognizes in his budget. Congress should not be overriding the vote and the will of the people in a district for which they were not elected.”
The president’s budget proposal contains several other provisions that drew praise from Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the city’s nonvoting Democratic representative, including one that would grant the city budget autonomy.
“We are grateful that the president again has demonstrated his support for D.C. to spend its local funds as it chooses and without politically motivated congressional interference,” Ms. Norton said.