As a guy who enjoys movies, good and bad, I always love a good stand-off, and there is an interesting real life standoff going down in Washington, D.C. at present. At issue is the voter-passed initiative for legalized marijuana, which is set to take effect at 12:01 a.m. Thursday. Congress is inexplicably not pleased about this, even though it is taking effect the very same week Alaska became the third state in the union to allow recreational marijuana use and possession.
The initiative legalizes the possession of up to 2 ounces for use at home, and people will also be permitted to grow up to three mature plants. Smoking marijuana in public will remain illegal, as does buying or selling the drug. The initiative would also eliminate the decriminalized possession civil fine of $25.
Congress has final say over the laws in the District of Columbia, and when situations like this occur, they usually just add language to a piece of legislation that undoes whatever they disapprove of. This is not a regular occurrence, with the last time Congress striking down a D.C. city law being 25 years ago. The argument is based on whether or not Congress acted in time to be able to stop the initiative. In December, Congress passed a spending bill to keep the government running, and in that bill was the language to block the legalized marijuana initiative.
The only problem, according to Mayor Muriel Bowser and other city leaders, is that the marijuana initiative passed (at over a 2-1 margin) in November and had been enacted, even though it had not taken effect yet. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) chair of the House Oversight Committee, along with Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) says that is wrong, and that Mayor Bowser and the city leaders could be in violation of the Anti-Deficiency Act, which prohibits spending unappropriated federal money. More to the point, Chaffetz said:
"The penalties are severe, and we're serious about this. Nobody's wishing or wanting that to happen, but the law is clear."
Yes, the law is clear, and the penalties may be severe, but for Rep. Chaffetz’s chest-thumping, it is a fairly hollow threat. To date, no one has ever been convicted of violating the Anti-Deficiency Act, just administrative punishments issued. Yet, the chair of the House Oversight Committee feels it necessary to threaten the mayor and other leaders of the nation’s capital with the possibility of prison time, and over marijuana? This is the same kind of petty and arbitrary nonsense we get, congress after congress, and yet, they still can’t figure out why voter turnout is so low, and why approval ratings are fighting tooth and nail to reach zero.
After all, what kind of example, if not precedent, does it set when a mayor is threatened with prison by the federal government for following the lawfully voted for wishes of her constituents? This is the most arrogant of actions when a government that works for the people can ignore the very will of that people. It is not like the people of D.C. voted in dueling, 64 ounce sodas, or heaven fucking forbid wanted to build a pipeline. My concern is not so much for the District of Columbia, but I will say I stand with Mayor Bowser and her administration. Since Congress hasn’t made getting much of anything done a priority, how about they leave Muriel Bowser alone to do hers?
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