Opinion

Alaskans can smoke pot, but House GOP tries to block it in Washington

Washington mayor threatened with jail if voter-OKd legalized marijuana takes effect. But in Alaska, it's OK

While House Republicans are threatening Washington’s mayor with jail time if she allows a voter-approved measure that legalizes the recreational use of marijuana to take effect Thursday, Alaska on Tuesday became the third state to let adults grow, possess and consume cannabis.

Last November, voters in Alaska, Oregon and Washington, D.C., passed ballot measures legalizing recreational marijuana. Alaska’s law takes effect for growing and consumption. The state has another year to develop the regulatory system for businesses that would cultivate and sell marijuana and cannabis products.

Washington's initiative legalized possession of two ounces and allowed adults to grow up to six marijuana plants in their homes. But Congress prohibited the city from establishing rules on how marijuana could be sold.

Now, two House Republicans have gone even further in their effort to block the district from allowing pot, the Washington Post reports. U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), who heads the appropriations subcommittee that handles the district's budget, sent a letter to Mayor Muriel E. Bowser warning that she would be in “willful violation of the law” if she allowed the legalization measure to take effect at 12:01 a.m. Thursday.

Chaffetz told the Post that there would be “very severe consequences” for ignoring Congress. He added, “You can go to prison for this. We’re not playing a little game here.”

Meanwhile, in Alaska, legalization took effect without a peep from members of Congress.

The difference is that Congress has jurisdiction over the District of Columbia, not the states. And some House Republicans have been eager to assert that jurisdiction and ignore the will of the voters. Last year, Congress passed a spending bill with a rider that barred the district from enacting any new laws or spending any tax dollars to facilitate the legalization of recreational marijuana.

In their letter, Chaffetz and Meadows are demanding an accounting of any money spent on the implementation of the ballot initiative, as well as a list of Washington employees who have worked on it, including their salary, position and the amount of time they spent on the tasks.

Again, meanwhile in Alaska, Gov. Bill Walker on Tuesday introduced legislation for the creation of a board to handle the licensing and regulation of marijuana retailers. He has included $1.5 million in his budget to help establish the regulatory system.

By preventing Washington from establishing rules on the distribution and sale of marijuana and barring the district from spending any money implementing the ballot measures, members of Congress are helping to create the chaotic, unregulated system that they’ll then condemn as an example of why marijuana shouldn’t be legalized.

More troubling is that a few members of Congress can overrule the 65% of district voters who chose to legalize marijuana. And because of antiquated jurisdictional rules governing Washington, the vote of a district resident is considered less valid than the vote of a resident in Colorado, Washington, Alaska and Oregon.

For more opinions, follow me @kerrycavan

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