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Congressional Gridlock Indirectly Helps Legalization Efforts in D.C.

The historic level of Congressional dysfunction this year has indirectly delivered a victory for marijuana legalization efforts in the District of Columbia.

A Congressional effort to prevent D.C. from moving forward with marijuana reform was effectively killed for the time being Tuesday night when Congressional Republicans introduced a “clean” continuing resolution to keep the government funded at current levels through December 11th.

Normally, the federal government would be funded via appropriations bills. Congress often includes riders in these appropriations bills to set new policy. For example, the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act approved by the House contained an amendment from Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) which would have prevented D.C. from spending money to advance local marijuana reform.

Yet with a divided Congress unable to agree on all pending appropriations measures they decided to basically drop them and instead do the bare minimum. A clean CR simply keeps funding basically the same for a short period without controversial policy riders. This lets Congress avoids a messy budget fight before the election so everyone can get back to their district to campaign. As a result the Harris amendment is dead for the moment.

This means that the November vote on Initiative 71, which would legalization marijuana possession for adults in the District, will go forward without the cloud of preemptive congressional interference hanging over it.

It is still possible that in the future Congressional Republicans will again try to interfere with D.C.’s local marijuana laws, but this clean CR means that at least won’t happen until after the election. By that point voters in D.C. are expected to have overwhelmingly approved the marijuana legalization ballot measure. It should then be politically more difficult for Congress to vote to directly override the clear will of the electorate.

Jon Walker is the author of After Legalization: Understanding the future of marijuana policy

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Jon Walker

Jon Walker

Jonathan Walker grew up in New Jersey. He graduated from Wesleyan University in 2006. He is an expert on politics, health care and drug policy. He is also the author of After Legalization and Cobalt Slave, and a Futurist writer at

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