DC Council Looks Into Emergency Funds To Snub Congress And Implement Marijuana Regulation

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Jonah Bennett Contributor
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The D.C. City Council is continuing to snub Congress by exploring ways to use emergency reserve funds to implement a regulatory framework for marijuana.

According to councilmembers, the city may be able to tap in emergency reserve funds to get around the prohibition set in place by Congress which states that the city cannot spend Fiscal Year 2015 funds “to enact any law, rule, or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce penalties associated with [marijuana’s] possession, use, or distribution,” Marijuana.com reports.

The requirement, then, surrounds whether councilmembers can convincingly argue that marijuana legalization—without any accompanying regulation or taxation—constitutes a threat to “public safety or health.”

Since no dispensaries are currently permitted, there is no way for users to legally purchase the drug. This means that users find themselves looking into the black market for untested, unregulated cannabis, which is often controlled by dangerous cartels.

“I am very interested in finding a path forward to regulate the buying and selling of retail marijuana,” Councilmember David Grosso told Marijuana.com. “From the very beginning, I did not think that decriminalizing the possession of marijuana went far enough. I’m opening to continuing that dialogue with my colleagues.” Councilmember Vincent Orange told Marijuana.com that using the reserve fund is a live option currently being explored.

The public safety problem is serious enough that D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser said she wouldn’t allow Initiative 71 to come to pass without accompanying regulation, though it appears she has backed down from that stance.

No one is really sure about the legal status of the council’s decision to allow Initiative 71, the measure which allows for limited legalization of marijuana in the district, to become law, though Congress has already stated that it likely won’t pursue a legal case against the city. And while the Department of Justice technically has the authority to launch a lawsuit, the Obama administration hasn’t listed the enforcement of federal law against states with recreational or medical marijuana programs as a major priority.

Whether the city will be able to get away with using contingency funds remains to be seen. D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine hasn’t had anything to say about the plan yet but is actively reviewing the newly suggested spending tactic.

Republican Reps. Jason Chaffetz and Andy Harris have been actively involved in opposing the city’s moves to push legalization through at every turn. Harris has asked Attorney General Eric Holder to prosecute those involved with legalization under the Anti-Deficiency Act, and Chaffetz sent Bowser a letter saying that the law is crystal clear in prohibiting the city from moving forward with Initiative 71. (RELATED: Congress Threatens DC Mayor With Jail Time)

Neither Chaffetz nor Harris responded to requests for comment by press time on the use of emergency funds to implement a marijuana regulatory framework in the district.

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