Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 9, 2016

Hazy Outlook for D.C.’s Effort to Decriminalize Marijuana, Following House Hearing

Mica conducted a House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee hearing on District marijuana laws.

Mica conducted a House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee hearing on District marijuana laws. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Blocking the District of Columbia from decriminalizing marijuana possession was not the goal of a Friday morning hearing convened on the local bill, according to the House Republican leading the hearing.

“No one is here to negate the District law; we are looking at the implications and the enforcement regime with 26 different agencies responsible for enforcing different penalties,” said Rep. John L. Mica, R-Fla., who held the gavel during the subcommittee hearing, plus a faux joint that was rolled by a member of his staff.

Mica wields what he referred to as a "faux joint,"  rolled by his staff in preparation for Friday's hearing. (Hannah Hess/CQ Roll Call)

Mica wields a “faux joint,” rolled by his staff in preparation for Friday’s hearing. (Hannah Hess/CQ Roll Call)

Other props included a map of marijuana arrests showing that the vast majority occur in low-income areas on the far eastern side of the city, and a colored map of D.C. with federal property — comprising 22 percent of its turf — colored in green. The visuals helped reveal the motivation behind what proponents have called a social justice measure, as well as the unique character of the city, which skeptics claim might be pose one of the biggest problems to carrying out decriminalization.

“The District of Columbia is not a state. It’s not a territory. It’s not a possession,” Mica said. “In fact, it is a federal district that’s provided for under the Constitution in a specific statute.”

After holding multiple hearings on the administration’s approach to enforcing the federal prohibition on pot in the states that have legalized the drug, Mica emphasized he was not “singling out” D.C., but wanted to look at the potential conflicts that decriminalization could create. On Friday, the chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Government Operations heard testimony from law enforcement officials representing the Metropolitan Police Department, the Department of Justice and the Park Police on those issues.

The consensus was that D.C. had the same authority as states and localities to decide its own policy on pot; the approach to enforcing the law on federal turf, like the National Mall and downtown McPherson Square, would depend on officer discretion and situational circumstance, and that arrest rates would likely fall if the law was implemented.

At the hearing’s conclusion, Mica said he was still unsure if Congress would intervene to stop the bill during the 60-day review period that lasts through mid-July.

“We will continue this series …” he said, later telling reporters that he wants to know, “Has the narcotic changed in its potency? Does it pose an even greater risk?” Mica intends to look at all of that, and says his views on decriminalization are still evolving. “I’m learning as we go through these hearings.”

Fellow Republican John Fleming, a doctor from Louisiana and one of the House’s outspoken pot critics, has already made up his mind. He told CQ Roll Call during a recess in the hearing that he intends to to introduce a House resolution to block the District from changing possession to a civil offense, punishable with a $25 fine, similar to a parking ticket.

From the dais, he recounted his experience as a family physician and drug counselor and said he was worried about marijuana being a “gateway drug.” He also challenged fellow Republicans who argue for loosening drug laws on a libertarian basis. If you can do whatever you want to your body, Fleming argues “don’t expect society and taxpayers to take care of you when you’re suffering from those circumstances.”

He said in an interview that “people who want to relax laws on marijuana are actually people who simply want less law enforcement, and they’re hiding under the umbrella of the libertarian movement, but they’re not libertarian at all.”

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., has vowed to defend the law from any congressional attempts to overturn it, and said during testimony that the responsibility to decide local matters by law falls to the locally elected D.C. Council and mayor. She resents the fact that House Republicans wanted policy officials to explain their decisions to Congress, and implied the hearing was a violation of the city’s rights.

Norton wants Republicans to practice what they preach and support the American principle of “local control over local affairs,” saying “we do not intend to allow the violation of their own principles at our expense.”

  • Jose

    The purpose of the hearing was to find ways to undermine the legislation. Since they won’t be able to outright overturn the law, the approach will be to attach riders on the budget that effectively nullify decriminalization.

  • ShadrachSmith

    No good has been gained by criminalizing weed.
    So we should stop criminalizing weed.
    This is simple stuff.

  • Andre Leonard

    “No one is here to negate the District law; we are looking at the implications and the enforcement regime with 26 different agencies responsible for enforcing different penalties,”

    Sounds like this bill is being held hostage to the continued existence of 26 agencies who are charged with enforcing this draconian law.

    Amazing how bureaucrats always find ways to perpetuate the status-quo.

  • BruceMajors4DC

    “The practice” Eleanor is referring to Is called the Tenth Amendment. I think so called “liberal” Democrats burst into flames if they touch a copy of it or mention it. That’s part of the reason they’ve been so far behind public opinion on this issue and on marriage equality, enacting DOMA, as the Clinton’s did, raiding marijuana dispensaries, as Obama and Holder have, only evolving towards coming out for popular issues that allow people more freedom and that states have enacted when it begins to threaten their fundraising efforts.

  • Buro Cratz

    Since people tend to wish that challenges be dealt with in a visible and structured manner, centralized planning and control can be appealing.

  • ShawingtonTimes

    Arrests will not go down because we will still have illegal drug dealers selling drugs on the streets in poor predominantly black communities where cash street sales require illegal firearms to protect pushers. Low income people don’t have secure private backyard gardens to grow their own; they’ll still need to buy small quantities from illegal pushers unlike the upper income growers. Those who live in public housing still wont be able to grow or smoke in their apartments because of the nuisance odors and fumes since units don’t have sufficient smoke controls. Legalizing the sales (ending prohibition of this and other drugs) like tobacco and alcohol, is the only way to reduce the profit incentive of the black market and keep drugs out of the hands of children and vicinities of local schools. In addition, the moment pot use becomes simply decirminalized, the illegal often violent dealers — who don’t limit their dope pushing to one type of drug — will cheer. The market for PCP joint dippers will skyrocket. We need a comprehensive approach that reigns in all illegal drug sales as LEAP officials suggest. Last week a high schooler pled guilty to selling crack on the unit block of M St in NW, Ward 6, steps away from Dunbar High School and Walker Jones Elementary campus. Myopic politicians will only create a recipe for failure if they take the incrementalist route.

  • WR Cunningham

    The cartels do not want marijuana decriminalized, neither do the gangs. Politicians need to learn from the past.What happened when prohibition was repealed? Crime in the streets dropped and hoodlems went out of business. Down here in Texas we have rampant border crimes and dead bodies on the streets. because it is extremely profitable to keep marijuana illegal. It might be noted that cartel members can and do make political contributions. How about you D.C. politicians put that in your pipe and smoke it!

  • Jose

    Both the Mafia and Congress do not want marijuana legalized. What does that tell you?

  • Socialism is Evil. Organized.

    Much of what unfree countries have today is the result of technologies, ideas, and customs that have been stolen from free nations.

  • Jose

    Hazy more accurately describes the brains of the 70+ year old legislators trying to stop decriminalization.

  • claygooding

    Regardless of whether marijuana is stronger or not,,it is still safer than alcohol and shouldn’t even be in the CSA,,and if “possible links” and “may cause” are scientific terms to you then you have no business trying to make scientific decisions.

  • familyguy

    Dr Fleming If you think tax payers should not be resposible for paying for our care then, should we stop paying taxes now. Because so far, I’ve paid a lot more in than what I will get out of the tax system.

Sign In

Forgot password?



Receive daily coverage of the people, politics and personality of Capitol Hill.

Subscription | Free Trial

Logging you in. One moment, please...