Source: National Constitutional By Scott Bomboy
Alaska and Oregon approved referendums on Tuesday to legalize recreational marijuana, but it could be a similar measure passed in the District of Columbia that triggers a public fight with Congress.
In Alaska, 52 percent of voters decided that adults can possess up to one ounce of marijuana and maintain six plants. The measure legalizes production and sales, under the control of a state board, and marijuana will be taxed.
The Oregon proposal was approved by 54 percent of voters and it will allow adults to possess much more marijuana legally: up to eight ounces and four plants. Production and sales will be regulated by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission. And marijuana would be taxed.
The legalization in the District of Columbia had also been expected after the District had decriminalized marijuana possession earlier this year. Almost 65 percent of voters there approved a ballot measure known as Initiative 71 on Tuesday.
Back in November 2012, Colorado and Washington state allowed recreational marijuana sales and use on a limited scale. During 2014, sales began in the two states after officials approved a tax and distribution infrastructure. So for Alaska and Oregon, there are clear paths and precedents for establishing a system to regulate and sell marijuana.
The situation in the District of Columbia is much different.
The District of Columbia isn’t a state and Congress has direct control over its affairs through its budget and regulatory powers.
Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution gave Congress the power to create a federal district to “become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful buildings.”
The District of Columbia passed a medical marijuana law in 2010 that was implemented without congressional objections. But the decriminalization law passed earlier this year was over the definite objections of some members of Congress.
There had been speculation before Tuesday that if voters in the District legalized recreational marijuana, a Republican-controlled Congress taking office in January 2015 would use the power of a joint Congressional resolution to overturn the law.
The District of Columbia measure also was confined to legalized possession of marijuana, and not the control sale and taxation of pot. The new measure approved Tuesday has to go back to Congress for a 60-day review period. And the District would need to draft and approve a separate law about sales and taxation, which also would go to Congress for approval.
And then there is the fact that the federal government still considers marijuana illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act as a Schedule 1 substance.
The Executive Branch’s Justice Department was steering clear of the marijuana legalization when it comes to state referendums. But the voter measure in the District of Columbia could be another matter entirely.