House Republicans Take Aim at D.C.’s Marijuana Decriminalization Efforts

Political Health

marijuanaDespite Washington D.C.’s Mayor Vincent Gray recently signing off on legislation decriminalizing the possession of marijuana in the nation’s capital, some federal lawmakers are saying “not so fast”. A Republican-led House subcommittee is reviewing their options and planning a hearing to look at the decision. Considering Congress has 60 days to disapprove the bill via a resolution, and it would need President Obama’s signature, their efforts are a long shot, but a possibility nonetheless.

The bill makes possession of less than one ounce of marijuana a civil offense, carrying a fine similar to a traffic ticket. The proposed fine is $25, cheaper than any state in the country.

As I reported last month, the D.C. Council voted 10-1 to pass the bill which was signed by Mayor Gray at the close of March.

Apparently, federal lawmakers aren’t happy that marijuana law changes are hitting so close to their home away from home, so some are acting.

“It is inappropriate to hold a hearing on the local marijuana laws of only one jurisdiction, the District of Columbia, when 18 states have decriminalized marijuana, 21 states have legalized medical marijuana and two states have legalized marijuana,” wrote D.C. Democratic Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton in a statement.

“There is nothing that distinguishes the District from these states except for Congress’s illegitimate power to overturn the democratically enacted local laws of the District,” Norton continued, according to the Huffington Post. “What is clear is that the enforcement of marijuana laws here and throughout the country has a disproportionately unfair effect on African American men and boys, leaving them with criminal records that often cripple them for the rest of their lives.”

For marijuana advocates and social justice activists alike, the D.C. decriminalization bill was particularly notable because it also prohibits the police from using the smell of marijuana as justifiable cause for stopping and searching people. In a city where black and brown men have been disparately targeted for marijuana possession charges, this change alone is significant.

“This bill is one of the first measures to address racial profiling in drug arrests, both procedurally and substantively. We are confident that Congress shares the District’s concerns about disparities in enforcement and the disturbing trends we are seeing nationwide,” said Patrice Amandla Sulton of the NAACP DC Branch.

Though the likelihood of Congress blocking the bill is a long-shot, the fate of the measure remains to be seen.