Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 10, 2016

House GOP Moves to Kill ‘Poorly Done’ D.C. Marijuana Decriminalization Law

Harris thinks the D.C. law is "poorly done." (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Harris thinks the D.C. law is “poorly done.” (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The Republican-led House Appropriations Committee is using the power of the purse to block the District from implementing a local law to decriminalize possession of less than an ounce of marijuana.

On a 28-21 vote, mainly along party lines, lawmakers adopted an amendment sponsored by Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., stating: “None of the funds contained in this Act may be used to enact or carry out any law, rule, or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce penalties associated with the possession, use, or distribution” of Schedule I drugs, including pot “for recreational purposes.”

“This is not because it’s the politically popular thing to do,” Harris told his colleagues, explaining that it was necessary because the legislation that D.C.’s elected officials enacted was “poorly done.”

Under the proposal, getting busted with one ounce or less of the drug would result in a fine of $25. The criminal offense currently carries up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. In Maryland, the state Harris calls home, possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana will be decriminalized on Oct. 1. Harris told CQ Roll Call he opposes the bill, signed by Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley in April, that reduces penalties for first-time offenders to a fine of up to $100.

Harris, a physician, framed his amendment as a way to protect the health of women and children, and keep the District’s “skilled workforce” sharp by preventing residents from getting high. “We pride ourselves on a skilled workforce,” he said during debate. “You think those skills get better when you’re intoxicated on marijuana? Don’t think so.”

Democrats objected to the measure, saying the decision to decriminalize should be left up to the District’s elected officials. “D.C. decided that its law enforcement resources were not being used most efficiently,” said Rep. James P. Moran, D-Va., reminding his colleagues that the city had one of the highest marijuana arrest rates in the nation. “It seems we ought to respect that decision.”

Rep. Sam Farr, D-Calif., reminded his colleagues that the House voted less than a month ago to cut funds for Drug Enforcement Agency raids on medical marijuana operations. “We agreed that it was time to back off on this,” he said.

Among the 27 Republicans who voted in favor of the measure (Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, was the 28th vote), some also voted for the measure to block the federal government from interfering with state laws on pot and hemp. Among them are Reps. Mark Amodei of Nevada, Chris Stewart of Utah and David Joyce of Ohio.

Advocates for marijuana decriminalization point out that 17 states have already loosened their drug laws, and public sentiment appears to be on their side.

“While the substance of his amendment is outrageous, I at least appreciate Rep. Harris admitting during the debate that voting for it won’t do anything to help the polling numbers of members of Congress,” said Tom Angell, chairman of the Marijuana Majority, in an email. “The public is way ahead of most politicians on what has quickly become a mainstream, majority-supported issue. Poll after poll shows that marijuana reform enjoys much broader support from voters than most elected officials do.”

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., who has no vote on the floor, vowed to keep fighting. She is joined by DC Vote, an advocacy organization that has formed a coalition of 41 local and national allies to fight for home rule. They plan to call on allies in Congress to strip the marijuana amendment and other D.C. policy riders once the bill hits the House floor.

DC Vote Executive Director Kimberly Perry called it “truly disappointing to see members of Congress continue to abuse their position in order to force their personal views on the residents of the District of Columbia.”

  • Stel1776

    “Harris, a physician, framed his amendment as a way to protect the health of women and children”

    By encouraging them to use the objectively more dangerous drug alcohol?

    “You think those skills get better when you’re intoxicated on marijuana? Don’t think so.”

    Decriminalization has little bearing on workplace drug (including alcohol) usage policies. You think that carrying on this senseless, unjust, unfounded, ineffective, harmful prohibition is good for the people? Don’t think so.

    Considering the great costs of cannabis prohibition, money is the least of which, it is ludicrous to continue this policy. I’ve noticed that many people who are against cannabis legalization greatly underestimate the detrimental effects of prohibition, if they believe there are any at all. Some of these effects are:

    •Increased deaths of countless people involved on all sides of the “war”, including law enforcement and bystanders
    •The spending of 100’s of billions of our dollars seeking out, arresting, prosecuting, and incarcerating otherwise law-abiding citizens
    •The loss of billions in tax revenue
    •The redirection of valuable police time from solving and preventing true crime
    •The filling of our jails with non-violent offenders, forcing the release of dangerous criminals early
    •The empowerment and expansion of underground markets as a very popular substance is placed within them
    •Increased crime as dealers and buyers have no legal recourse to resolve disputes
    •Increased exposure to hard drugs as some cannabis consumers buy from suppliers who have and push them
    •The prevention of adults from choosing a recreational substance safer than alcohol
    •Increased corruption within the legal system
    •The invasion of our civil liberties, which in America we hold in especially high regard
    •The prevention of people from receiving effective medicine
    •The prevention of people from receiving decent employment, scholarship money, and student aid due to their “criminal” record, which affects not just them but their family as well
    •Increased support of tremendous multinational criminal networks
    •Increased public mistrust, disrespect, and disdain for our legal system, police, and government, which is devastating to our country

    Why are we forcing police to deal with something that is, if anything, a minor public health issue? Why are we criminalizing people for something that is safely enjoyed by millions of Americans, something that 58% of Americans believe should be legal?

    After decades of research, the relative safety and medical efficacy of cannabis has been established well enough to conclude that it is significantly safer and more useful than alcohol. The vast majority of harms related to cannabis are a result of the very laws that are supposed to “protect us” from it. Cannabis prohibition is a travesty of justice based on irrational fears and paranoia from an archaic era. Cannabis must be legalized and regulated similar to alcohol. Prohibition policies do not work for popular things that are safely enjoyed by many…especially not in a country that values liberty, justice, and freedom.

    Prohibition will work great injury to the cause of temperance. It is a species of intemperance within itself, for it goes beyond the bounds of reason in that it attempts to control a man’s appetite by legislation, and makes a crime out of things that are not crimes. A Prohibition law strikes a blow at the very principles upon which our government was founded.” -Abraham Lincoln

    Urge your legislators to implement a cannabis policy similar to that of alcohol. Please consider what the following cannabis legalization organizations have to say. Help end this unjust, unfounded, harmful prohibition by joining their mailing lists, signing their petitions and writing your legislators when they call for it.

    MPP – The Marijuana Policy Projecthttp://www.mpp.Org
    DPA – Drug Policy Alliancehttp://www.drugpolicy.Org
    LEAP – Law Enforcement Against Prohibitionhttp://www.leap.Cc
    NORML – National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws – norml.Org

  • Cam

    Since we are each unique, liberty’s principles also serve as a foundation for the rules of law intended to prevent unequal treatment and plunder by agents of the state in the name of fairness, equality, or other illusions.

  • Braven Eworld

    The notion that liberty means “freedom from obstacles” is often cited by central planners consolidating the power to coerce others.

  • Betty Eyer

    Since when is going backwards on pot legalization “the popular thing to do”? We have just recently hit the point where a small majority thinks it should be decriminalized and almost no one thinks that heavy penalties for use are appropriate.

  • Immortal Illumined

    the greatest plant in the universe is almost free, LET FREEDOM RING! 13

    ENLIGHTENMENT…i was a brainwashed evil, mean, christian conservative until i tried it at 17 years old…i hated gays, immigrants, women’s rights, blacks, marijuana, i was Rush Limbaugh’s #1 fan….until i smoked marijuana….changed the world, hope the EVIL POPE is enjoying the marijuana revolution around the globe, keeping the flock brainwashed and against marijuana, gays, and women’s rights

    1000s of my friends and family have grown 30-99 plants for 20 years, thanks for keeping prices high and NORCAL wealthy…#1 crop in cali = $15 Billion Untaxed…

    “any doctor against marijuana is a doctor of death” – cali secret 420

    from 0 states to half the country, from low 20% approval to almost 70%, cali runs this planet by 2 decades, time to tie marijuana to the 2014, 2016 elections, out with the old, in with the new

    20 years behind us southern states and NEW YORK, sad and scary….nobody denies freedoms like the south, nobody…the top ten incarcerators on the planet are southern states and more blacks are in prison then were slaves before the civil war…even if marijuana reforms did pass the republiCANTS in charge would deny you all your freedoms, centuries of practice…no matter though, we never planned on getting your backwards brethren from day one, half the country already but not one southern state, lol…not 1….the new generations are taking over in the south and they are nothing like their freedom denying parents, let’s ride…

    Deaths by Alcohol: Millions
Deaths by Tobacco: Millions

    Deaths by Prescription Drugs: Quadrupled in last decade
Deaths by Guns: Millions
Deaths by the food we are fed: Millions
Deaths by Marijuana: 0, ever…they are killing my American family while denying freedom

    love and freedom forever, marijuana revolution 2014


  • wttexas

    We need to legalize..
    for chronic pain,this is the best medicine,
    Why is it ok to become addicted to prescription pain meds ???
    after 30 yrs in cancer treatment ,,I have seen the good that weed will do…
    recycle the congress……………

    • DragonTat2

      Replace congress. Recycle means to use again~ the ones we have now are useless.

  • Yonatan YONATAN

    With three million unemployed families still without an extension of benefits since late last December, the republicans and democrats have walked away from the issue , leaving these families in financial ruin

  • Alonzo Ales

    Liberty is an adaptation to our own ignorance regarding much of the knowledge we make use of each day and the uncertainty associated with future events and circumstances.

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