Republicans Look To Restrict Funds For DC City Budget Due To Legal Marijuana

By Jonah Bennett Published: March 2, 2015

Now that it looks like both House Republicans and the Department of Justice are unwilling to launch a lawsuit against legal marijuana in Washington, D.C., Republicans in Congress are exploring options to hit the D.C. City Council where it hurts most: by restricting federal funds for vital programs listed in the city’s upcoming budget.

“We provide half a billion dollars (annually) to the District. One would think they would be much more compliant with the wishes of Congress,” Republican Rep. Andy Harris of Maryland recently stated.

Last year, Congress sent $670 million dollars of federal funding to the city, comprising 6 percent of the $11 billion total budget. Harris, like the other Republicans, did not specify which programs in the budget may be targeted. Federal money is pre-allocated for certain purposes, meaning that Congress could potentially reduce funding for the court system, school construction or tuition breaks at public universities.

Harris assured the city that Republicans will “find some areas where we perhaps have been very generous with the citizens of the District.”

Marijuana became legal in the district at 12:01 a.m. on Thursday, Feb. 26, subject to certain important caveats, namely that buying and selling the drug is still illegal, as no regulatory or taxation framework yet exists. D.C. is the first jurisdiction east of the Mississippi with legal recreational marijuana.

The strongly worded letter Republican Reps. Mark Meadows and Jason Chaffetz sent to the city, in which they threatened Mayor Muriel E. Bowser with jail time if legalization moved forward, didn’t appear to be ultimately effective. (RELATED: Congress Threatens DC Mayor With Jail Time)

“We would encourage the Congress to not be so concerned with overturning what 7-in-10 voters said should be the law in the District of Columbia,” Bowser said, according to CBS4.

Constitutional law professor James Raskin at American University doesn’t think much of the legal arguments from Republicans who urged the city to halt legalization or face dire consequences, but admits that there is a real opportunity for Congress to do some damage. (RELATED: DC Marijuana Legalization Is All About Timing)

“The real power Congress has is the power of the purse,” said Raskin. “They can exact their retribution financially against the District.”

As Meadows noted, “There’s no talk of litigation…I think it plays out on the funding side of it. There’s a lot of funding questions, whether it’s specifically about this or other related topics that become very difficult for D.C. to be able to address without the help and will of Congress.”

Meadows’ office did not return The Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment regarding which areas of the city’s budget may be targeted.

This isn’t the first time Congress has clashed with the city over funding priorities. Previous D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray garnered support from Rep. Darrell Issa, Chaffetz’s predecessor on the oversight committee, for the ability to spend local tax funds without approval from Congress. But with the ongoing dispute over marijuana legalization, Congress will likely try and tighten its grip on city funds, which may result in serious consequences for the city.

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