Republicans In Congress Move To Block Marijuana Decriminalization In D.C.

House Republicans go to war against marijuana in the District of Columbia

Marijuana Plant

House Republicans are seeking to block the law recently passed by the D.C. City Council that would decrliminalize marijuana in the nation’s capitol:

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.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Mu says:

    Make the district a state and split NY into a NYC and a rest state. Keeps the balance in the Senate and removes this oddity.

  2. And the GOP strikes another blow for the cause of limiting the federal government’s ability to regulate state and local affairs!

  3. anjin-san says:

    Thank God for the GOP commitment to small government and individual freedom.

  4. J-Dub says:

    Andy Harris’ home state of Maryland has already decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana, so he is subjecting people that he doesn’t even represent with laws that his own constituents aren’t subject to.

  5. KM says:


    Make the district a state and split NY into a NYC and a rest state.

    Proposals tend to die over who gets to keep “New York”.

  6. Mike in DC says:

    An I the only one who finds humor in the fact that it’s a “joint resolution”?

  7. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Question: How much in Federal funds would they use NOT enforcing a law? $0000000000000.00? So how will this stop the decriminalization of pot?

  8. OzarkHillbilly says:

    I’m not the only one to notice that particular fly in the ointment. Scott Kaufman over at the Raw story reports,

    “Malik Burnett, Policy Manager for the Drug Policy Alliance, told DCist that “this amendment — the way it’s written — would not re-criminalize or rewrite the laws around criminalization of marijuana.”

    “Police issuing [$25] tickets to people who they found to have marijuana on their person wouldn’t be able to do so,” Burnett continued, which “would create a sort of de facto legalization.”

  9. al-Ameda says:

    Just when you think “they can’t top this” they do.

    Apparently, the only “positive” actions Republicans are capable of is (1) repeated attempts to repeal, rescind, or defund the Affordable Care Act, and (2) authorizing more investigations of “Benghazi!”

  10. george says:

    Nanny state Republicans. What did you expect?

  11. Janis Gore says:

    I’m surprised they got past thinking about sex long enough to move on this.

  12. Mike says:

    Don’t they have enough on their plate to work on? I am convinced if alcohol and marihuana were discovered today it wouldn’t be marihuana that is criminalized. Or maybe both would be

  13. anjin-san says:

    By all means, let’s put people in cages at great expense for smoking pot.

    Excessive Drinking Causes 10 Percent Of Deaths In Working-Age Adults

    Think about people dying from drinking too much, and you probably think of the classic disease of alcoholics, cirrhosis of the liver. Or perhaps an alcohol-fueled car crash. But there are many more ways to kill yourself with alcohol, unfortunately, and they account for 1 in 10 deaths in working-age adults, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  14. James Pearce says:

    Outside of the issues specific to the District, though, this strikes me as a really dumb political move by House Republicans.

    This should be no surprise: the Republican Party isn’t going to support legal marijuana until they have to.

    They remain the conservative party, their “small government” rhetoric only applies to economic issues, and the Libertarian vote just isn’t that important to them.

  15. Ruth Walker says:

    There is a potential problem all over the country until Congress stops the expensive, ineffectual war on drugs that hurts mostly the poor and minorities. The scheduling has no relationship to the harm, with alcohol being the most harmful and addicts should be treated by physicians, not imprisoned. We know that prohibition doesn’t work (think 18th Amendment with 21st repealing it) but just adds violence to the picture.