WASHINGTON — The nation’s capital will become the first place east of the Mississippi River with legal recreational marijuana after a voter-approved initiative takes effect this week.
District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser announced Tuesday that the city will move forward with the initiative despite an attempt by Congress to block it last December.
UPDATE: Two Congressmen issue threat of prison to DC officials over marijuana plan
Starting Thursday, it will be legal for people 21 or older to possess up to 2 ounces of pot and grow up to three mature plants at home for personal use. But it can’t be sold legally, and the District will neither tax nor regulate the drug — steps that were explicitly banned by Congress.
Similar rules took effect Tuesday in Alaska. Colorado and Washington state already have legal marijuana.
In documents released on Tuesday outlining the new policy, the Bowser administration said it boils down to four words: “home grow, home use.” Smoking or growing pot outside the home remains illegal.
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Police Chief Cathy Lanier said her officers would have no trouble enforcing the new policy. The major change is that officers will no longer be handing out $25 civil tickets for pot, which they’ve been doing since the District decriminalized possession last year.
All the District’s laws are subject to review by Congress, and members can also add language to unrelated bills to undo policies in the nation’s capital that they don’t like. That’s what happened in December, when language added to a spending bill sought to prohibit the city from taking any further steps to liberalize its marijuana laws.
But the city believes it’s on solid legal ground in allowing the initiative to take effect because it was enacted upon its approval by voters in November — before Congress intervened. By moving forward with legalization, the city now faces the possibility of a legal challenge either from Republicans in Congress or from private citizens.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican and chairman of the House Oversight Committee, has said that Congress’ action in December clearly constituted a ban on legal pot in the District. A spokesman for Rep. Andy Harris, the Maryland Republican who led the push from Capitol Hill to block the District’s efforts, declined to comment Tuesday on any additional steps Congress might take.
Cannabis in Congress: New bills introduced by Reps. Jared Polis of Colorado and Earl Blumenauer of Oregon would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, add federal taxes
“We’re going to implement the law,” said Bowser, the Democratic mayor. “I don’t know what the Congress will do, but I do know what my job is at this point, and that’s to make sure that we have clear rules and guidelines for the people of the District of Columbia and for the agencies of our government.”
Police officers will be given business cards to hand out to citizens outlining what’s legal and what’s not. Lanier, who has embraced pot decriminalization as a way to prioritize other public safety matters, said she was comfortable with the District staking out unique territory on marijuana enforcement as states grapple with changes to their own laws.
“Why not?” she said. “We are the nation’s capital.”
Adam Eidinger, the chairman of the group that got the marijuana initiative on the ballot, said he thinks opponents in Congress are out of options.
“I’ll be planting on Thursday,” he said. “I have my seed tray. I’m ready to go.”
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