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Congress sends last-minute letter to Bowser, seeking to block pot legalization

Photo credit Prensa 420

Some members of Congress warned Mayor Muriel Bowser late Tuesday night that the city will be breaking federal law if it legalizes marijuana.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chairman of the committee that oversees the District’s affairs, told Bowser in a letter that Congress blocked any attempts to legalize marijuana and urged her to reconsider the city’s decision.

The letter came after Bowser met with D.C. councilmembers, Police Chief Cathy Lanier and Attorney General Karl Racine earlier in the day to discuss final details ahead of the law taking effect, which Bowser said would be Thursday at 12:01 a.m.

Right after Tuesday morning’s meeting, Bowser did not specify how far she is willing to go to defend the law from Congress.

“I don’t know what Congress will do,” she told reporters. “But I do know what my job is at this point, and that’s to make sure we have clear goals and guidelines for the people of the District of Columbia and the agencies of our government. I will defend the will of the people.”

Chaffetz’s letter was first reported by the Washington Post.

Initiative 71 is the ballot measure to legalize marijuana passed by 70 percent of D.C. voters in November. It will legalize the possession of up to two ounces of marijuana, growth of the plant and consumption of it on private property for anyone 21 or over.

Public marijuana use will remain illegal, including in restaurants, bars and coffee shops.

Sale of the plant also remains illegal. Adults will be allowed to transfer an ounce or less of marijuana without payment. Bowser emphasized the law only allows home growth and home use of the plant.

Possession, use and distribution of marijuana will also continue to be illegal on federal lands, which includes traffic circles like Ward Circle, parks like Rock Creek Park and the National Mall. Even some sidewalks, such as Pennsylvania Avenue downtown, are owned by the federal government.

Federal law enforcement can arrest someone for possession of the drug in these areas. Here is a map of federally owned land in D.C. The plant will also remain illegal on AU's campus.

Bowser also announced at the Tuesday meeting that she will introduce emergency legislation to preemptively block “cannabis clubs” from forming. These clubs occur when private owners of establishments allow entrants to exchange marijuana, a practice common in Amsterdam, according to the Washington Post.

“For the purposes of marijuana use, private clubs are treated like public places,” she said in a statement.

Lanier downplayed potential confusion surrounding the Metropolitan Police Department's enforcement of the law.

“We did the implementation of decriminalization and that went very smoothly, so this is just a little step further,” she said. “So it’s not that different for us, so the enforcement I expect to go just as smoothly.”

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