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Mon Jul 14, 2014, 08:36 PM

Obama to Congress: Hands Off D.C.’s Marijuana Policy


The White House has a message for Congress — hands off the District of Columbia, including its new law decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana.

Buried in a broadly worded veto threat of the Financial Services appropriations bill, the administration said Monday it “strongly opposes” language restricting the District’s ability to spend its own money on a host of issues, including implementing marijuana policy and abortions.

“The Administration strongly opposes the language in the bill preventing the District from using its own local funds to carry out locally-passed marijuana policies, which again undermines the principles of States’ rights and of District home rule,” the administration said. “Furthermore, the language poses legal challenges to the Metropolitan Police Department’s enforcement of all marijuana laws currently in force in the District.”


Eleanor Holmes Norton Rips 'Tyrant' Congressman For Trying To Block D.C. Marijuana Laws

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) tore into Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) on Friday for trying to block a D.C. marijuana decriminalization bill, comparing him to a tyrant and chiding him for meddling in her district's affairs.

During remarks on the House floor, Norton wondered aloud why Harris was pushing an amendment that would prevent D.C. from spending its own money on laws relating to reducing marijuana penalties, particularly when his home state of Maryland just voted to decriminalize pot.

"You will occasionally hear members say something only a tyrant would say," Norton said. "Rep. Andy Harris was unable to convince his own state not to decriminalize marijuana, so he steps across the border into the District of Columbia to try to tell us what to do?"

Norton's remarks come as D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray signed off on a law earlier this year making possession of small amounts of marijuana a civil infraction, along the lines of a parking ticket, rather than a criminal offense. In the meantime, decriminalization advocates are currently campaigning to put the issue on the November ballot. Harris' amendment would block all funding for implementing any such laws.


District of Columbia Lawmakers Expected to Pass Emergency Resolutions Today Opposing Republican-Led Effort in Congress to Block Marijuana Law Reform in D.C.

“That Congressman Andy Harris would try to kill D.C.’s efforts to stop arresting people for marijuana possession is beyond disturbing,” said Dr. Malik Burnett, D.C. policy manager with the Drug Policy Alliance. “This amendment is an affront to the District’s right to home rule, while ensuring that thousands of District residents continue to be arrested and suffer the collateral consequences associated with a criminal record. Congress should be following D.C.’s example and end racist marijuana arrest policies, instead of defying the will of the people and reversing their decision.”

The amendment passed by the House Committee on Appropriations wouldn't take effect until later this year, assuming it passes the House and Senate and is signed by the president. Advocates also warn that enactment of this amendment into federal law could block implementation of Initiative 71 by local officials, should D.C. voters pass it this November, and block efforts by local lawmakers to tax and regulate adult marijuana sales. If passed by D.C. voters, Initiative 71 would allow adults over the age of 21 to possess up to two ounces of marijuana on their person at any time, and allow for the cultivation of up to six marijuana plants at home. District law prevents the ballot initiative from addressing the sale of marijuana. However, the D.C. Council is currently considering a bill that will tax and regulate marijuana within the District.

Recent polls show broad support among District residents for following in the steps of Colorado and Washington and legalizing marijuana. The District of Columbia currently has the highest per capita marijuana arrest rates in the U.S. In 2010 African Americans in the District accounted for 91 percent of all marijuana arrests – even though African American and white residents use marijuana at roughly similar rates.

That last sentence reminds me of the visual in Twelve Years a Slave when Northup could see the Capitol Dome from the place where his kidnappers held him until they could sell him into bondage. The slaves were held on what is now Independence Ave.

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