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Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton

Representing the District of Columbia

Places in Washington DC

Frequently Asked Questions on Implementing D.C.’s Marijuana Legalization Initiative

Frequently Asked Questions on Implementing D.C.’s Marijuana Legalization Initiative

Question: Does the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2015 (Omnibus),  which prohibits the District of Columbia from using local funds “to enact any law, rule, or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce penalties” for marijuana, block D.C.’s marijuana legalization initiative (Initiative 71), which allows the possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana?

Answer: Most likely no.  D.C. can implement Initiative 71 after the expiration of the congressional review period unless a resolution of disapproval overturning it is enacted during that period or other legislation is enacted before, during or after that period that blocks or overturns it.

Question: Does the Omnibus prevent D.C. from implementing Initiative 71?

Answer: Most likely no.  The plain meaning of the provision and principles of statutory interpretation support implementation of the initiative.  The original version of the provision said D.C. may not “enact or carry out any law, rule, or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce penalties” for marijuana.  “Carry out” was dropped from the Omnibus.

Question: Does Congress need to take additional action for Initiative 71 to take effect?

Answer:  No.  Under the D.C. Home Rule Act of 1973, an initiative “shall take effect” upon the expiration of the congressional review period unless a resolution of disapproval is enacted during that period, in which case the initiative “shall be deemed to have [been] repealed”.  A measure can be repealed only if it had been enacted in the first place.  

Question:  Does D.C. need to enact additional laws or regulations to implement Initiative 71? 

Answer: Most likely no.  The initiative is self-executing by its terms.  It requires no additional enactment of laws or regulations to be implemented.

Question: Has Initiative 71 already been enacted?

Answer: Most likely yes.  Initiative 71 was enacted when it was approved by voters in November 2014.

Question: Do Members of Congress and Leadership support the position that D.C. has a strong legal case for implementing Initiative 71?

Answer: Yes.  Many of the Omnibus’ negotiators believe D.C. can implement the initiative, including House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, House Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Nita Lowey and House Appropriations D.C. Subcommittee Ranking Member Jose Serrano.