U.S. drug czar Michael Botticelli, though banned from supporting marijuana legalization due to federal law, says that the nation's capital should be able to implement its own laws using its own funds, even if that does indeed mean legalizing marijuana.
“As a resident of the District, I might not agree about legalization, but I do agree with our own ability to spend our own money the way that we want to do that," said Botticelli, acting director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), during an event at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Friday. Botticelli was speaking in response to a question from Dan Riffle, federal policies director at the Marijuana Policy Project.
Botticelli, who did not endorse the legalization of medical or recreational marijuana at the event, added that President Barack Obama also supports D.C.'s ability to govern itself.
“The president, as it relates to the District, was very clear that the District should stick to its home rule,” Botticelli said Friday.
The Obama administration has said that the president supports the principle of home rule for the District and believes Congress should not interfere with local decisions.
D.C.'s city government is mostly autonomous, but the U.S. Constitution gives Congress final say over the District's laws.
In November, D.C. voters approved an initiative that legalized up to 2 ounces of recreational marijuana for personal use and up to six marijuana plants for home cultivation. While marijuana sales remain banned under the measure, there has been some discussion of implementing further legislation that would allow for sales and taxation of cannabis.
However, tucked into the federal spending bill Congress passed in December was a provision introduced by Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) that challenged D.C.'s ability to enact marijuana laws and aimed to block the city from spending funds to legalize or regulate the sale of marijuana.
There has been some debate over whether D.C. can implement its recently passed law. While Harris argues that his provision already effectively blocks the marijuana law from being enacted, multiple congressional Democrats, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), are in favor of allowing the law to move forward. D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) submitted the marijuana legalization initiative to Congress in January, ignoring the GOP's effort to block the measure.
And just this week, it was reported that Obama had made a minor language change in his budget proposal that could thwart congressional Republicans trying to block marijuana legalization in the district further, and would allow the city government to move ahead with local laws regulating and taxing recreational pot.
If Congress doesn't overturn D.C.'s current pot measure and Obama's wording remains in the final version of his budget, marijuana legalization in the city could go into effect as early as March. Further plans to regulate pot sales in the District could begin with legal retail marijuana stores, similar to those already open in Colorado and Washington state, arriving in D.C. by the end of the year.
Still, D.C. marijuana legalization faces some obstacles before it can become law. Congress has a mandatory 30 days to review the D.C. Council legislation, which is currently ongoing. Without congressional action, the measure will automatically become law. But that still leaves Obama's proposed budget -- and his plan will require approval by the Republican-controlled House and Senate.
"Even if he personally disagrees with ending prohibition, it's great to see the head of this office in particular saying that he thinks the federal government shouldn't stand in the way of the huge majority of D.C. voters who want a new direction for marijuana policy," said Tom Angell, chairman of the drug policy reform group Marijuana Majority, to The Huffington Post. "Now I just hope he thinks voters in the states should be afforded that same respect he wants to give Washington, D.C. residents."