Conyers-Cummings-Lowey-Serrano Issue Statement Supporting D.C.’s Legal Interpretation of Initiative 71
Washington, DC, February 25, 2015
Today, House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers, House Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Nita Lowey, House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government Ranking Member José E. Serrano, and House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Ranking Member Elijah Cummings issued the following statement in support of the District of Columbia’s legal authority to implement its marijuana legalization initiative on Thursday:
“The District of Columbia has the legal authority to implement Initiative 71 on Thursday because the provisions of the Omnibus spending bill passed by Republicans last fall do not appear to apply to the marijuana measure adopted overwhelmingly by District voters. Rather than threatening elected District officials with prison time for implementing the will of the voters, Republicans should focus on more pressing matters, such as the dysfunctional division within their own party that is now threatening to shut down the Department of Homeland Security in a matter of days.”
No federal law prevents the implementation of Initiative 71, which complies with the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2015 (Omnibus), the Anti-Deficiency Act, and the District of Columbia Home Rule Act.
District voters approved Initiative 71 in November, and the Omnibus, which was signed in December, does not repeal or block the implementation of Initiative 71. Instead, it prohibits future action by the District to legalize marijuana. There is legislative language contemporaneous with passage of the Omnibus suggesting that Initiative 71 will take effect. Appropriations Full Committee Ranking Member Nita Lowey stated during debate of the Omnibus that "... the language in the bill does not block either decriminalization of marijuana or the referendum on legalization." Congressman José E. Serrano, the ranking member of the Appropriations Financial Services Subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over funding in the District, said during debate "The language of the rider only prevents the District from enacting laws, rules, or regulations regarding marijuana legalization, but it does not prevent already enacted efforts like the recent ballot initiative."
As such, the District may spend its local funds on implementing Initiative 71, including its transmittal to Congress, in compliance with the Omnibus and the Anti-Deficiency Act.
Under the Home Rule Act, the enactment and effectiveness of D.C. bills, including initiatives, are two separate processes. D.C. legislation is enacted upon passage by the city. The legislation only takes effect after the expiration of a congressional review period unless a resolution of disapproval is enacted into law. If Congress does not enact a disapproval resolution by today, Initiative 71 will take effect tomorrow.