clock menu more-arrow no yes

Can House Republicans "defund" marijuana legalization in DC if it doesn't cost anything?

Rep. John Mica (R-FL) holds up a fake joint during a congressional hearing on DC's marijuana decriminalization law.
Rep. John Mica (R-FL) holds up a fake joint during a congressional hearing on DC's marijuana decriminalization law.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
  1. House Republicans want to block a marijuana legalization law in Washington, DC, that local voters overwhelmingly passed in November, multiple Democratic and Republican sources reportedly told the National Journal.
  2. The House language would ban DC from using local and federal funds to carry out the legalization measure, according to the report.
  3. DC's marijuana legalization measure allows adults 21 and older to possess up to two ounces of marijuana, grow up to six plants, and give marijuana to other adults 21 and older.
  4. The measure doesn't legalize, regulate, or tax sales, because voter initiatives in DC can't have a direct impact on the local budget.

The House Republican measure could block legalization

marijuana plant

A marijuana plant. (Shutterstock)

The House Republicans' provision would block DC from using local and federal funds to carry out its legalization measure.

At first glance, this might seem like a weird approach. DC's legalization initiative costs nothing; it actually saves the district money to not enforce laws against marijuana possession. The ballot measure actually couldn't cost money in the first place, since DC ballot initiatives, by law, can't have a direct impact on the local budget.

But the House provision would prohibit DC Council from spending its time and resources to approve the legalization initiative and send it to Congress. Under federal law, that's a necessary step for legalization to take effect.

And if DC Council tries to pass a law that would tax and regulate the sales of marijuana, as Mayor-elect Muriel Bowser supports, that would also face certain doom under the House provision. A tax-and-regulate bill would cost money, and Congress could easily block such a bill through its budgetary supervision of DC's local laws.

The provision would need approval from the Senate and White House

White House

The White House. (Ei Kebir Lamrani / AFP via Getty Images)

Any action by the House would also require approval by the Senate and White House to become law — and neither seem receptive to the idea. President Barack Obama is a strong supporter of letting DC shape its own laws. And Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), who's poised to take over the Senate subcommittee that oversees DC, told Roll Call that he's against the federal government telling DC it can't legalize pot.

House Republicans are trying to get around the veto threats by sticking their anti-legalization measure in a larger budget bill. If they succeed, the fate of DC's legalization initiative might get lost in discussions about much broader budget issues — and that could doom legalization's chances of taking effect.

Read more: 6 questions about Washington, DC, statehood you were too disenfranchised to ask.


Correction: This post originally left out the scenario in which the House Republican measure could block DC's legalization law.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for The Weeds

Get our essential policy newsletter delivered Fridays.