In last November’s general election, D.C. voters overwhelmingly passed Initiative 71, a bill legalizing recreational use of marijuana in the District. Unfortunately, even with the majority support of all but one voting precinct, Congress stopped Initiative 71 from going into effect when it passed its omnibus spending bill last month.
While Mayor Muriel Bowser and other local politicians have vowed to defend Initiative 71 and ensure its implementation, strong rhetoric will not protect the will of D.C.’s voters. Now, more than ever, is the time to make D.C. a state and prevent unfair meddling with the city’s budget and legislative processes from happening again in the future.
Arguments in support of D.C. statehood have long rested on principle. Statehood supporters point to the fact that no other territory in the country has its residents pay federal taxes without having a senator or representative with voting power, yet a national assembly composed of representatives from states as far away as Alaska and Texas directly controls the District’s budget. Congress retains the right to review all District legislation over a 30 to 60 day waiting period before they come to effect, a restriction unique only to D.C.
Since D.C. home rule began in 1971, Congress has changed the District’s law only on three occasions. The latest Congressional move against Initiative 71, however, is a concrete example of why D.C. statehood and budget autonomy are so crucial to preserving the democratic integrity of legislation in the District. Members of Congress from faraway places and with no experience in D.C.’s local affairs can overturn measures even if a supermajority of District voters support those measures, effectively giving voters in Alaska and Texas more sway over Washington’s laws than D.C. residents themselves.
District voters must now give more support than ever to the D.C. statehood movement. Congress’ interference with a law as popular and important as recreational marijuana legalization is unacceptable. Sending Congress any other message is an invitation for more unwelcome micromanagement with D.C.’s own affairs.
D.C. statehood would also incentivize students to register themselves as D.C. voters rather than absentee voters in their home states. As D.C. voters students can elect representatives to Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E, a local government body that the university must consult and seek approval of in the master planning process, which determines everything from building new residence halls to the route of the GUTS buses.
A grand total of 28 write-in votes went to the two seats reserved for students on Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E in November. Such apathy is a different story from the elections in 1996, when the ANC had pursued a range of anti-student measures, and town-gown relations hit rock bottom. A voter registration drive led to more than a thousand students electing two Hoyas to the ANC for the first time. Students found and treasured their hard-earned voice in local politics despite vehement neighborhood opposition, a voter intimidation campaign, and six years of litigation.
By becoming D.C. voters and even running against Georgetown residents for ANC seats, students have the potential to gain a majority on ANC2E and veto the university’s future campus plans if they do not sufficiently cater to students’ interests.
Ultimately, Bowser, together with other D.C. politicians, must do more than pledge to make Initiative 71 happen: they must push for D.C. statehood. Statehood will empower residents with federal representation and allow students to play a meaningful role in shaping the District’s and Georgetown University’s future.