Norton Promises Fight with National Implications to Maintain D.C. Marijuana Reform Law
WASHINGTON, D.C.—The office of Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) today said that she sees no reason why the end of the 30-day congressional review period for the District of Columbia’s self-executing marijuana legalization initiative, Initiative 71, on Wednesday should be eventful if Members attend to their own business and principles. The initiative takes effect on Thursday. Norton said that it would be “unseemly and arbitrary” for Congress to try to interfere again with the most restrictive marijuana legalization law in the country while other jurisdictions continue to enact far more permissive reform laws.
“If the Republican Congress, which can’t decide how to keep open one of its premier security agencies, the Department of Homeland Security, wants to pick a fight with the District over our local marijuana reform law, a fight is what they will get,” said Norton. “Pot is de facto legal among young people, except for people of color here and around the country. The people of the District of Columbia voted overwhelmingly for Initiative 71 when they learned that virtually only people of color end up with drug arrests for possession of marijuana. It is well worth a fight to retain a local law with racial justice as its centerpiece.”
Although the Republican-led House claimed it had blocked marijuana legalization with a rider in the fiscal year 2015 Omnibus appropriations bill, which was signed into law in December, Norton found a flaw in the language. The language in the final bill had been changed from D.C. may not “enact or carry out” any law, rule or regulation to legalize marijuana to D.C. cannot “enact” any law, rule or regulation to legalize marijuana. However, the Initiative had already been enacted by voters in November and required no additional enactments to implement. Norton’s interpretation that the Omnibus does not prohibit D.C. from implementing the Initiative was later supported by lawyers in the District, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers (D-MI), House Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Nita Lowey (D-NY), and House D.C. Appropriations Subcommittee Ranking Member Jose Serrano (D-NY).
Norton also successfully beat back Republican efforts to block D.C.’s marijuana decriminalization law in the omnibus.
Under the Home Rule Act of 1973, all D.C. legislation, including initiatives, must be transmitted to Congress for a review period before they can take effect. A bill takes effect at the expiration of the review period unless a resolution of disapproval is enacted into law during that period. Norton has prevented a disapproval resolution from being enacted into law since 1991.