The U.S. House of Representatives is standing in the way of Washington D.C.’s marijuana decriminalization laws, refusing to authorize funding for the law change.
Despite that, Mayor Vincent Gray says the city will still move forward with the change, which makes the possession of about an ounce of pot a civil infraction punishable by a $25 fine. But Gray also warns that House Republicans could possibly shut down the city’s medical marijuana program as well.
The Republican amendment was attached as a rider to a much larger spending bill and prevents DC from using any money to “to enact or carry out any law, rule, or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce penalties associated with the possession, use, or distribution of any” controlled substance, including marijuana.
The move is seen by many as the Republicans again chipping away at the home-rule of D.C. and the Democrat-led policies coming out of D.C. city council. Maryland Rep. Andy Harris, a Republican from Maryland, spearheaded the move. He argued that the fines are too low (it is a $100 fine in Maryland) and that the program doesn’t have any drug-treatment components. In Maryland, repeat offenders are given the choice of drug treatment programs. Finally, he said that it was unreasonable to make marijuana smoking a $50 fine for minors when tobacco fines for minors are $100.
Supporters of D.C. decriminalization and home-rule said the Maryland congressman was overstepping his role.
“The D.C. voters elected people. They made the decision, and it seems to me that we ought to respect that,” Rep. James P. Moran, a Democrat from Virginia told the Washington Post. “It just doesn’t seem right that the Eastern Shore of Maryland can reach over into D.C. and make laws for D.C. It’s not the way this country is supposed to function.”
Others say that Harris is standing in the way of a program that would greatly reduce the racial disparity in marijuana rates in D.C. Bill Piper, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, called Harris a hypocrite.
“That Rep. Harris is picking on a majority black district and no other jurisdiction with marijuana decriminalization is very telling,” Piper said in a press release. “His own state has decriminalized marijuana, but he’s not interfering with it.”
Meanwhile, some now say that the House Republican amendment could possibly legalize marijuana possession by default by leaving the city without any marijuana laws on the books. The Washington Post editorial board notes that “by defunding decriminalization without removing it from the books, the measure could effectively legalize pot, since the District couldn’t spend any funds on enforcement.”
It’s an interesting theory, and we’ll see how it shakes out over the next few weeks.