Washington D.C. Marijuana Legalization Causes Republicans To React With Threats, While Democrats Lend Their Support

Marijuana officially becomes legal in the District of Columbia on Thursday, following a voter-approved initiative that easily passed back in November 2014. But whether or not marijuana will stay legal in the district is a whole other issue. As a potential government shutdown hangs over the Potomac River, Congress has decided to interject itself into the battle over weed in Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser allowed the marijuana legalization law — which permits people to smoke marijuana in their own homes and own up to six plants — to take effect at midnight on Thursday, but not without first being threatened by House Republicans, who claim the mayor is overstepping federal authority.

"If you decide to move forward tomorrow with the legalization of marijuana in the District, you will be doing so in knowing and willful violation of the law," Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) wrote in a letter sent to the Washington D.C. mayor. According to the Associated Press, Chaffetz also said in media interviews this week that House Republicans are "serious about this," adding that the penalties for Bowser could be grave.

Chaffetz is hardly the only politician distraught over Washington's marijuana legalization. Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) signed the joint letter to Bowser, while Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.), who opposes legalized marijuana in his own state of Maryland and has fought to block the initiative in D.C., reiterated his stance on Tuesday, via The Washington Post:

Transmitting expends money. Everything they’re doing now expends money. They’ve had meetings within the police department on how they’re going to enforce this, that’s an expenditure of money. There are violations of the Anti-Deficiency Act all throughout the D.C. government apparently. Those people ought to be very afraid, because the penalties are severe.

The reactions to Washington D.C.'s weed legalization seem to be split down party lines, with Democrats in the House coming out in support of Bowser and the D.C. residents who overwhelmingly voted in favor of the measure. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), who's on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee along with Chaffetz and Meadows, simply told The Post: "I’ve always believed that D.C. is not treated right."

Cummings and three other House Democrats, Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), and Rep. José E. Serrano (D-N.Y.) also released this statement on Tuesday backing the D.C. marijuana initiative:

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.

Meanwhile, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called out her Republican colleagues in a statement for threatening legal action against the Washington mayor over a little bit of weed:

Last November, the citizens of the District of Columbia exercised their democratic rights and overwhelmingly voted to approve Initiative 71. I concur with the legal analysis of the District of Columbia and other Congressional leaders that the Omnibus spending bill passed in December does not repeal or block the implementation of this initiative. ... It is very troubling that Republicans would threaten elected District officials for implementing the measure resoundingly passed by the District of Columbia’s voters.

Democratic Whip Rep. Steny Hoyer also showed his support for the people of D.C.

Of course, no one was more excited this week than D.C. politicians, who backed Bowser and pressed forward in their battle over two ounces of legalized marijuana. Bowser, too, was unfazed on Wednesday, telling reporters that she wouldn't back down because she had other things to do in her city besides getting arrested.