WASHINGTON, Dec. 10 (UPI) -- The massive $1.1 trillion spending deal, revealed late Tuesday night, contains news both good and bad for proponents of legalized marijuana.
Advocates cheered language in the 1,603-page "cromnibus" that eases federal pressure on the 32 states and Washington, D.C., which have passed medical marijuana legislation.
"None of the funds made available in this Act to the Department of Justice may be used with respect to the [32 states and D.C.], to prevent such States from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana," the proposed law says.
The measure, originally passed in the House in May, would curb federal agencies' continued raids on those dispensaries made legal under state laws, but are still in violation of federal law.
"We applaud this Congress for doing the right thing by protecting the rights of patients, and ending a years-long attack on the medical marijuana community," said Mike Liszewski, government affairs director with Americans for Safe Access. "By approving this measure, Congress is siding with the vast majority of Americans who are calling for a change in how we enforce our federal marijuana laws."
But while Congress appeared ready to cede medical marijuana, it made good on some members' threats to block a new voter-approved measure in the District of Columbia to make use of the drug legal.
Initiative 71, which was approved by more than 70 percent of D.C. voters on Nov. 4, would have allowed adult residents to possess up to two ounces of marijuana, grow up to six plants, and give marijuana to other adults.
But because Congress has ultimate control over D.C.'s budget, the measure couldn't legalize, tax, or regulate sales. The Home Rule Act of 1973 also gives Congress the power to veto any of the district's laws.
The move to legalize recreational use followed successful efforts to legalize both medical marijuana and decriminalize possession of recreational marijuana up to one ounce, both initiatives were allowed by Congress to go into effect. But under Monday's deal, even decriminalization could be at risk.
District officials were incensed Democrats, with whom they usually find themselves politically in step, would throw them under the cromnibus.
"I would be at a loss to explain why Democrats would agree to block D.C. marijuana legalization on their watch," Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton said. "Republicans will control Congress in less than a month. I don't know why Democrats would give them a head start in interfering with the district's local laws."
D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said Congress had ignored not only the will of district residents, but the effort to eliminate the inherent discrimination through which the law was more heavily enforced against minorities.
"I can't believe they did this," Mendelson said. "We don't need to be locking these people up."
Outgoing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said while he opposes the rider, Senate Democrats may not be able to strip it from the final bill.
"The District of Columbia should do what they want to do," Reid said. But "if they put it in there, it's going to be hard to take it out over here."
Both sides of the Capitol are expected to take up the spending package, which funds appropriations bills for the federal government through September.
The exception is the budget for the Department of Homeland Security, which runs out of money early next year. Republicans poised to take control of Congress for the first time in six years hope they will be able to leverage negotiations over funding for DHS to strong-arm President Obama over his executive action on immigration.