Washington D.C.’s Pot Battle Could Help Kill RAWA Lobby

February 27, 2015
Washington D.C.’s Pot Battle Could Help Kill RAWA Lobby

Possession of marijuana is legal by city ordinance in Washington D.C., effective today. This situation unleashed a fury of controversy.

Voters in the District of Columbia approved a repeal of the city’s prohibition on possession of less than two ounces of marijuana in a November 2014 referendum. Voters also permitted the cultivation of up to six plants, paraphernalia, and sharing of the drug, according to the Washington Post.

The citywide referendum passed in a landslide. Voters approved it by a 70/30 margin. The measure lost in just one precinct. That was by a total of nine votes.

Congress gets the final approval of city ordinances passed in Washington D.C. The so-called “Crominus” saw Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) attach unrelated legislation to the must-pass budget bill that defied this democratically elected initiative. That effort attempted to repeal Washington D.C.’s voter enacted pot legalization.

Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser, supported by city council members and its top attorney, announced on live television Wednesday that the law would go into effect, regardless of its attempted repeal through congressional action without a debate on the topic.

Why This Matters to the Regulated Online Poker Movement

The online gaming industry should take notice of this situation. Mayor Bowser is daring the federal government to take action against city leaders for ignoring a backdoor attempt to meddle in business supported by a vast majority of its residents.

This same tactic of attaching unrelated legislation to a must-pass bill was used in 2006 when the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) was included to the Safe Port Act. The UIGEA was unable to pass on its own merits.

This same underhanded behavior was feared by the regulated online gaming industry in the same Crominus bill that Washington D.C. is ignoring now. Fortunately, efforts to pass RAWA failed to gain traction.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) is the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. While Rep. Chaffetz represents a district 2,000 miles away from Washington D.C., his committee has the ultimate say on matters pertaining to the city.

Rep. Chaffetz sent a not-so thinly veiled threat to Mayor Bowser demanding that Washington D.C. not go through with its pot legalization. The letter cited the Anti-Deficiency Act. City officials ignored the threat.

While Washington D.C. is not technically a state, this situation has all the makings of a 10th Amendment showdown. It highlights the overreaching of the federal government into matters that were definitively  decided on a local level.

The federal government’s next step is unclear. The Washington Post speculated that Attorney General Eric Holder and the Obama Administration will not attempt to enforce the ban.  The federal government has not intervened on the same issue in Colorado or Washington state.

A local jurisdiction openly defying federal law opens up a host of consequences. The federal government has several actions that it may take.

The Obama Administration could attempt to coerce Washington D.C. to comply through threats of legal action. The blatant disregard of Rep. Chaffetz’s letter makes it appear that avenue would be futile.

Another option would be to fight the issue in federal court. The federal government may be in the right, but there are several negative consequences to this action. Losing a marijuana court case could be detrimental to federal drug law enforcement.

The publicity of such a case has little political upside.  Filing criminal charges against elected officials fulfilling a voter approved referendum is not an ideal scenario.

Republicans that oppose the legalization of marijuana in Washington D.C. could turn an about-face. This is the perfect opportunity to pull the states’ rights card, even if pot legalization is contrary to the party’s platform.

If the Washington Post is correct in its assumption, the most likely outcome is that nothing happens. This might be the best scenario for the regulated online poker movement.

How Online Poker Benefits from Washington D.C. Pot Fight

Rep. Chaffetz is the main player in the Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA) in the U.S. House. He is the house sponsor of Sheldon Adelson’s anti online gambling legislation.

Washington D.C. is ignoring a rider attached to must-pass legislation that Rep. Chaffetz is attempting to enforce through threats. There should be little debate about how embarrassing that is.

Should the federal government attempt to enforce this issue through the courts, it will be a long, drawn out process. That should discourage any politician looking to take the same route of secretly attaching RAWA to unrelated legislation without a debate. It only opens the door to more litigation on the states’ rights issue, while at the same time alienating moderate and libertarian voters.

If the Obama Administration chooses to sit on the sidelines on the Washington D.C. pot issue, it would make politicians reluctant to become the next author of an embarrassing situation. It also opens the door for more defiance by states.


Ignoring RAWA would fit into a potential republican presidential candidate’s platform. States’ rights have become an important issue to republicans. The Affordable Care Act, Common Core, and the school lunch program, are among the targets of the GOP at the state level.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has already shown his defiance towards overreaching federal laws. His state has twice passed legislation that appears to run contrary to the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act. A second battle through the federal court system to defend a New Jersey sports betting law is underway.  There is little doubt that Gov. Christie is at least considering a presidential run.

Nevada also has a republican governor that, according to political journalists in the state, has national political aspirations. Nevada is the poster child of the modern day rebel, where many residents are already angry about the federal government’s ownership of over 80 percent of its land.  This is especially true among longtime and rural residents.  Fighting anti gambling legislation and the federal government at the same time has absolutely no downside to Nevada politicians.

It seems fitting that a drug agenda could benefit the fight for online gambling. Online poker players should be supportive of Washington D.C.’s efforts to ignore a congressional attempt to block a democratically elected pot initiative, even if the topic appears to be irrelevant at first glance.  A showdown on the topic, or lack thereof, should be of major interest to the interactive gaming movement.

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