Implementing D.C. Democracy

I hope you saw our letter in yesterday’s Washington Post urging D.C. officials to use the city’s reserve funds to enact a regulatory scheme for marijuana. Even though we think the reserve funds should be used only in rare cases, we have such a case now.

Three months ago, we applauded the Mayor, the Council, and the Attorney General, all of whom stood up for District voters and vowed to implement Initiative 71 over Congress’s unfair claims that doing so was unlawful.

Now, it’s become clear that District officials need to stand up for District voters again. Even though Initiative 71 legalized the use of marijuana, Congress subsequently prohibited the city from using its current fiscal year appropriation to establish a system for regulating and taxing sales of marijuana in the city.

As the Post reported earlier this week, Congress’s action is undermining the will of District voters. The lack of a regulatory regime is limiting access to legal marijuana, increasing the illegal drug trade, and depriving the District of much-needed tax revenue. And as the Post also reported, this chaos appears to be supported by Rep. Andy Harris, the chief proponent of the congressional prohibition against using current appropriation dollars to address the situation. This unfortunate situation is the complete opposite of what D.C. voters intended when they approved Initiative 71. And it is a situation that is thwarting D.C. democracy.

Fortunately, this is fixable. District officials could tap the city’s already-appropriated reserve fund to implement the needed regulatory scheme for legal marijuana. This wouldn’t run afoul of Congress’s limitation, since the limitation prevents use of only the current fiscal year’s appropriations. And using the reserves is exactly what the District did to remain open during the 2013 federal government shutdown, so there’s ample legal and political precedent for taking that course again.

Given the current unintended consequences resulting from Initiative 71, we hope District leaders will use the city’s reserves to address those consequences and fully implement the people’s will.

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