Pot backers oppose U.S. bill banning legal marijuana in Washington

Marijuana advocates has urged Congress not to use a spending bill to overturn a local referendum that overwhelmingly backed legalizing pot in the District of Columbia.

A $1.1 trillion spending bill negotiated by lawmakers barred the U.S. from using funds to implement Initiative 71, which legalized possession of small amounts of marijuana in Washington.

Voters easily approved the measure last month but Congress has the power to restrict D.C. municipal spending. A provision in the bill bars any spending by the District to legalize or reduce penalties for marijuana.

Eleanor Holmes Norton, the district's non-voting representative in Congress, said in a statement the amendment on marijuana was unclear.

She said she would try to have it removed from the bill before the full House of Representatives and Senate vote on it.

"The District of Columbia government and its residents should never be put in the position of uncertainty of any kind about any of their local laws," Norton said.

Dr. Malik Burnett, policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance, said Initiative 71 was a civil rights issue since blacks made up 90 percent of district marijuana arrests even though non-blacks used pot at similar rates.

"D.C. voters chose to reform their marijuana laws, which have a direct impact on how communities of color interact with police. Congress should not undermine this," he said.

"Now Congress has said the District of Columbia cannot carry out the will of the people," he said.

Republican lawmakers, led by Representative Andy Harris of Maryland, had gone against legalization in Washington. The city has one of the lightest U.S. penalties for pot possession, although marijuana is illegal under federal law.
The White House warned Congress in July to leave the District of Columbia alone on legalization.


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