Congress Could Be Big Hurdle In D.C. Marijuana Legalization

D.C. voters appear likely to legalize marijuana in November, but the initiative faces one large hurdle: the U.S. Congress.

Congress Could Be Big Hurdle In D.C. Marijuana Legalization
Getty Images / David Ramos

The debate over legalizing marijuana is headed to the nation's capital in more ways than one.

An initiative on the November ballot in Washington, D.C. would, if passed, legalize the use, possession, and home cultivation of a small amount of pot in D.C. (Video via WTTG)

And an NBC/Washington Post/Marist poll from September showed 65 percent of likely voters favored the ballot initiative, compared to only 33 percent opposed. 

But here's what makes legalizing marijuana especially challenging in Washington D.C.: every bill passed in the district must be submitted to Congress for approval. Historically, Congress has exercised tight control when it comes to marijuana in the capital city.

In 1998, Congress prohibited the district from even counting the votes on a medical marijuana referendum. And a ban on any type of legalization was in place until 2009

And while marijuana is already legal in two states, Colorado and Washington, with two more, Oregon and Alaska, set to vote on the issue in November, legalization is in the national spotlight now more than ever. (Video via WRC-TV)

Even in Colorado, where legalization was approved by 55 percent of voters, politicians like Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper are balking at supporting legalization across the country.

JOHN HICKENLOOPER VIA KDVR"I think any governor who looks at doing this before we see what the consequences are, I would view it as reckless."

Activists present legalization and decriminalization – which the D.C. Council approved earlier this year – as a civil rights issue, with the ACLU reporting marijuana related arrest rates in the city is 8 times higher for blacks than for whites.

And D.C. city council member David Grosso told National Journal that the council is likely to pass emergency legislation to block a voter-approved law from going into effect, albeit only until the council can pass a "complete law" that could include legalizing sales. 

Voters in Oregon and Alaska also appear to be leaning toward legalization, although polls from those states show much tighter margins. 

This video includes images from Getty Images.