Washington: Campaigners vowed Friday to pursue the legalization of marijuana in Washington, after language intended to prohibit pot in the US capital slipped through Congress.
Riders to the $1.1 trillion federal spending bill approved Thursday by the House of Representatives bars the District of Columbia from enacting or implementing laws to legalize cannabis.
"It`s kind of interesting how these riders freeze everything," said Adam Eidinger, chair of the DC Cannabis Campaign.
Washington was on track to become the first place in the eastern United States to legalize marijuana when voters, in a November referendum, approved by a 2-1 margin a proposal to allow personal possession and home-growing of pot.
Legally speaking, Eidinger said, the proposal was formally enacted when the referendum results were certified earlier this month.
But the congressional riders throw into limbo prospects for supplementary municipal legislation that would pave the way for the licensed retail sale of cannabis from as early as 2016.
"It allows the (referendum) initiative to go ahead, without the proper tools to ensure its success," Eidinger said, adding that campaigners are ready to go to court to uphold their side of the issue.Marijuana remains strictly illegal under federal law, which classifies it on a par with hard drugs such as heroin and LSD.
But two states -- Colorado and Washington -- have gone ahead to allow its possession and sale for recreational use, with Alaska and Oregon poised to follow suit.
Several states, as well as the District of Columbia, also allow medical marijuana on a prescription basis.
Public opinion polls suggest that a majority of Americans favor legalization, but critics view pot as a "gateway drug" to harder narcotics that must remain strictly prohibited.
The District of Columbia -- a city of 650,000 -- is subject to the authority of Congress, even if it elects its own local council whose decisions have almost never been vetoed on Capitol Hill.
Earlier this week, the White House said President Barack Obama supports legalization in Washington, as envisioned in the November referendum.
"We do not believe that Congress should spend a lot of time interfering with the ability of the citizens of the District of Columbia to make decisions related to how they should govern their community," spokesman Josh Earnest said.
Obama is nevertheless expected to sign the spending bill -- marijuana rider included -- when it lands on his desk in the coming days.