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DC Council Threatened With JAIL Over Marijuana

The D.C. City Council has been blocked from using local funds to develop a regulatory framework for marijuana and has abandoned plans to hold a marijuana hearing on Monday, owing to threats of jail time and fines from the D.C. Attorney General.

According to D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine, holding meetings on marijuana “would violate federal civil and criminal code provisions,” The Washington Post reports.

Voters in D.C. were ecstatic when the ballot measure to legalize marijuana passed with flying colors in November of last year, but that excitement soon died down as Congress quickly moved in December to prevent the city from using any funds to implement a regulatory framework through a spending deal, meaning that for now, the measure is suspended in the air.

The battle between Congress and the council will continue to develop throughout February. On Friday, Michael Botticelli, acting director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy and District of Columbia resident, added more fuel to the fire, although he didn’t explicitly come out in favor of legalization.

“I do agree with our own ability to spend our money the way that we want to,” he stated, referring to the language the White House included in the recent budget which subtly removes the prohibition on the Washington, D.C. City Council’s use of local funds to establish a framework for the sale and distribution of marijuana. (RELATED: White House Sneaks D.C. Marijuana Legalization Into Obama’s Budget)

“What he said really toed the line, but he still found a way to support what’s going on in DC,” Leslie Bocskor, managing partner of Electrum Partners, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

Botticelli is expected to be confirmed as U.S. drug czar on Monday by the Senate at 5:30 p.m., and according to the law, the czar must oppose marijuana.

“The drug czar’s support for local legalization in the nation’s capital is both surprising and welcome,” Tom Angell, chairman of the Marijuana Majority, told TheDCNF. “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.”

Boticelli’s remarks follow a recent slew of officials from the Obama administration coming out in qualified support of marijuana. Earlier last week, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy argued that marijuana has definite medicinal value and that recent findings showing the effectiveness of medical cannabis in treating conditions and symptoms may soon prompt a switch in federal policy. (RELATED: US Surgeon General Confirms That Medical Marijuana Works)

“Politicians are slowly beginning to embrace the will of their constituents on this issue, including members of President Obama’s administration,” Erik Altieri, National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws communications director, told TheDCNF. “With over 50% of Americans supporting marijuana legalization and over 70% of members of President Obama’s own party this recalibration only makes political and practical sense.”

Although the council discarded plans to continue with the 10 a.m. hearing on Monday, Democratic Council Chairman Phil Mendelson stated that the council will soon hold an informal roundtable discussion in order to avoid being charged with contempt of Congress. Now that the council is somewhat stifled, the main battle will occur between the Obama administration and the Republican-dominated Congress over budget language.

“Does the existing Republican Party believe that there’s a win to be had here that can affect them positively in the long run, or is this just an ideological battle by certain members who think that the battle is a worthwhile victory?” Bocskor told TheDCNF. “My opinion is that Republicans will not choose to die on this particular hill—especially given that the Obama administration continues to find ways to push back against Republicans on this issue.”

But others were skeptical of placing too much confidence in the Republicans ultimately backing down prior to seeing the political landscape unfold in Congress.

“Exactly how Republicans, particularly the more socially conservative members on the House side, will react is anyone’s guess,” Altieri told TheDCNF. “Any member is able to introduce amendments and riders to appropriations bills, so while it is possible for them to reintroduce language similar to the Harris rider to continue to stymie DC’s efforts to regulate cannabis commerce, there doesn’t seem to be any widespread appetite to see that happen.”

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