Republicans In Congress Move To Block Marijuana Decriminalization In D.C.
WASHINGTON — The House Appropriations Committee passed a measure on Wednesday to bar the District of Columbia from using either federal or local funds in carrying out a new law decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana, a move that could block the law if approved by Congress.
The panel voted, 28 to 21, to approve the measure as an amendment to an appropriations bill that finances a number of government agencies as well as the District of Columbia. The next step is a full House vote.
“Congress has the authority to stop irresponsible actions by local officials, and I am glad we did for the health and safety of children throughout the District,” Representative Andy Harris, the Maryland Republican who proposed the provision, said in a statement.
Under the law — which is scheduled to take effect in mid-July — possession of up to an ounce of marijuana would become a civil infraction punishable with a small fine. The maximum penalty now is six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
District laws must be reviewed by Congress, which has a certain amount of time to intervene by passing a joint resolution that the president must sign. This would not be the first time that Congress has bypassed the onerous review process in favor of simply withholding funding, including in the late 1990s after residents voted to legalize a medical marijuana program. Congress blocked money for it for more than a decade.
This is yet another one of the absurdities regarding the way that the District of Columbia is governed that really ought to be dealt with at some point. While I tend to support the idea of retrocession of the non-Federal parts of the District to Maryland in the same way that what is now Arlington County was returned to Virginia in the mid-19th Century instead of statehood, it is utterly silly that Congressmen from other parts of the country are given veto power over not just the budget for the District but also the laws that its democratically elected representatives passed and which polls indicate District residents overwhelmingly support. This is especially true when it comes to areas such as this, which obviously ought to be solely in the control of the District’s government.
Outside of the issues specific to the District, though, this strikes me as a really dumb political move by House Republicans. Polls have shown increasing support for more liberal laws related to marijuana, with a majority supporting full legalization in one recent poll, and support is even higher among younger voters. Standing against an idea like this, and blocking what is nothing but a jurisdiction making a decision about its criminal laws, is likely to turn off those voters even more than they already are to the Republican Party. Nobody is asking the House GOP to pass a bill to legalizing marijuana throughout the United States, but there’s no purpose at all, and much potential political damage, in an action like this. But, then, I guess that’s why they’re called the Stupid Party.
Hopefully, this is one of those budget measures that gets pushed to the side as the Fiscal Year 2015 budget makes its way through the House and Senate between now and the end of September.