Can Congress Block Washington DC Legalization? Highly Unlikely

For once, Congressional gridlock looks awesome.

After the historic landslide —  69 percent — vote to end pot prohibition in Washington, DC, many people are wondering how Congress will react. The legislature holds the purse strings of the District and has used that power in the past to block medical marijuana in Washington.

This time, things are different.

Congress has a small window of time to affirmatively block the implementation of the District’s legal marijuana plans, but doesn’t appear capable of doing so.

[jump] The current Senate is one of the most effectual of all time, passing a record-low number of laws this session. A Republican-led effort to de-fund District decriminalization failed to pass the Senate this year. And even if it did, the White House threatened to veto the bill.

But what about now that Republicans have control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate? Well, it’s not a strictly blue and red issue anymore.

Today, Reason magazine’s Jacob Sullum notes that Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) is expected to chair a key committee overseeing the District. Paul also thinks Congress should respect the will of the voters who approved Initiative 71.

“I think there should be a certain amount of discretion for both states and territories and the District,” Paul told reporters on Election Day. “I’m not for having the federal government get involved. I really haven’t taken a stand on…the actual legalization…but I’m against the federal government telling them they can’t.” 
It was fellow Republican Representative Dana Rohrabacher (Huntington Beach) who led an unprecedented and successful effort to get the House to defund the federal war on marijuana this year. (It failed in the Senate.)

Lastly, blocking District legalization is something of a poison pill. Measure 71 ended pot prohibition, but leaves regulations to the city council. Congress can’t undo legalization; it can only block efforts to regulate and control the legal trade. That would look bad back home.

There’s definitely going to be a lot of grandstanding in the coming months, but it would be extremely unlikely that all three branches of government will agree to defy the will of District, and, more importantly, the majority of Americans who support ending prohibition.

As one legislative analyst in Washington told me this week, “the horse is out of the barn.”