A House appropriations subcommittee has lifted a long-standing budget rider banning the District government from spending any money to decriminalize marijuana.
The Financial Services panel, which has oversight of D.C., has removed from the 2010 budget 11-year-old language outlawing the District’s use of federal or local funds to legalize marijuana or reduce penalties for its possession or distribution.
“This is definitely something we’ve been working with Congress on for a few years now and communicated with the committee about,” said Bruce Mirken, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project. “It’s taken a while to get it done, but it looks like maybe this will be the year that it happens.”
The financial services budget, marked up Thursday, “takes further steps towards reducing undue congressional interference in local affairs,” Rep. Jose Serrano, the subcommittee chairman, said in a statement.
Serrano, D-N.Y., said the budget bill “allows the District to conduct and implement a referendum on use of marijuana for medical purposes as has been done in various states.”
The District voted on medical marijuana once before, in 1998, but the votes were declared invalid. Former Rep. Bob Barr raced to have his anti-legalization language added to the budget two weeks before the initiative vote was held. When the ballots were unofficially tallied nearly a year after they were cast, it was learned that 69 percent of voters backed legalization.
If added to the ballot now, it will pass again, said Chuck Thies, a political strategist who worked on the 1998 pro-initiative campaign.
“I look forward to it being on the ballot next year,” he said. “I expect there would be a well-funded, well-organized citywide effort for 2010.”
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administrative is firmly against the legalization of medical marijuana, arguing proponents “are spending huge amounts of money to encourage a greater tolerance for drug use.” Smoked marijuana “has not withstood the rigors of science — it is not medicine and it is not safe,” the DEA argues.
The financial services budget bill also eliminates a longtime ban on the use of local funds for abortion, and it discontinues the ban on the use of funds for domestic partnership registration.
By: Michael Neibauer
June 28, 2009