Legal weed and the will of the people

    At 12:01 this morning, marijuana became legal in the Nation’s Capital. A landslide majority of D.C. voters – 70 percent – made it happen. By any democratic measure, it was the will of the people.

    But certain politicians in a certain political party are angry about this historic development, so angry that they’ve theatened to jail Washington’s mayor. They don’t have a leg to stand on, but nevertheless they’ve told her, “There are very severe consequences….You can go to prison for this.” They say they plan to launch an investigation; to get things rolling, they’ve demanded that the mayor provide a list of all the city employes who are working to implement the legal-weed law.

    This is what happens when House Republicans stick their noses into the city’s business.

    The GOP routinely says that it hates “big government” and loves “the will of the people,” but it conveniently dumps those mantras when D.C. does stuff that the GOP doesn’t like. The main problem is that D.C. lives under the federal heel – its 700,000 residents are federally taxed without any federal votes – and the Republican House plays a huge role in the city’s subjugation. Which is quite unfair, because D.C. is a deep-blue city.

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    The marijuana story is a classic example. Last fall, weed was legalized by 115,050 voters. But that has triggered the wrath of a guy who was elected last fall out in Utah by 94,571 voters. And that congressman, Jason Chaffetz, has decreed, “I just don’t think that Washington D.C. should be a haven for smoking pot.”

    Some Mormon from Utah, passing moral judgment on a diverse cosmopolitan city and dissing the will of the people….that ain’t right.

    And D.C. will hardly become “a haven.” Thenew  law says that people can legally smoke pot only in the privacy of their homes. They can’t smoke it anywhere in public, or in their cars. They especially can’t smoke it on federal land (20 percent of D.C.’s terra firma), where it remains illegal. They can grow a few plants in private, but they can’t sell it. And there won’t be any retail stores, a la Colorado, which means the city won’t be reaping any tax revenue.

    These nuances don’t matter to Chaffetz, who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which has jurisidiction over the city. Hence his investigation of the city’s behavior, which is really nothing more than imtimidation. And his outrage is quite selective, given the fact that in the last election cycle, he accepted $20,000 from beer, wine, and liquor interests. On his morality meter, getting drunk in a bar is apparently fine; getting high in your own home is criminal.

    But wait: If Chaffetz is so opposed to the pot law, and if Mark Meadows, chairman of the subcommittee overseeing D.C., is so opposed to the pot law (in the last cycle, Meadows got $10,000 from beer, wine, and liquor interests),  then how did pot become legal at 12:01 this morning? How did the city manage to implement the will of its people?

    Because the city has good lawyers.

    The pot law was officially enacted last fall when the city Board of Elections certified the ballot results. Then, in December, when the House was readying a massive federal spending bill, Chaffetz inserted a tiny provision that barred D.C. from enacting any laws loosening pot penalties. But, as the city’s lawyers essentially pointed out, “Too late!” D.C. had already enacted its pot law before Chaffetz made his move. No way he could stop the law retroactively.

    So yeah, Chaffetz can do an investigation (for what it’s worth), and he has already asked U.S attorney general Eric Holder to consider prosecuting D.C.’s mayor (as if Holder would indulge such nonsense). But the city felt sufficiently emboldened to go forward – and to put the pot issue in the proper context. As one city councilor said yesterday, “This has nothing to do with marijuana. This is about the autonomy of the District and the will of the District voters.”

    Of course, if the city had autonomy, these hassles wouldn’t happen. Heck, the District has a larger population than Wyoming – and Wyoming gets a voting congressman and two voting senators. But, alas, as issues go, D.C statehood is deader than gun control. Which is a shame, because instead of freaking out over pot-smoking in private, House Republicans should be focused on worthier pursuits – like keeping the lights on at the Department of Homeland Security.


    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1, and on Facebook.


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