Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 7, 2016

The Chronic Countdown: D.C. Marijuana Decriminalization Could Be Final by Mid-July

A scene from a 2011 pro-marijuana legalization rally near the White House. (Bill Clark/Roll Call File Photo)

(Bill Clark/Roll Call File Photo)

Unless Congress steps in, possession of pot in the nation’s capital will become a civil offense this summer, with penalties similar to a parking ticket.

Exact timing depends on when each chamber chooses to adjourn for breaks, but the marijuana decriminalization bill’s layover on Capitol Hill will likely end in mid- to late-July. After that, 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.

So if Capitol Hill wants to harsh Washington’s mellow, lawmakers have about three months to act.

Under the Home Rule Act, legislation that changes D.C.’s criminal code is required to undergo a 60-day congressional review period. To stop the bill from becoming law, opponents must introduce a congressional resolution disapproving the bill, get it approved in both the House and the Senate and secure the president’s signature in that time frame.

The clock began ticking for the pot bill on April 8, the day it was officially transmitted to Congress. The D.C. Council estimates an enactment date of July 15.

Only days when either chamber is in session are counted toward the 60. Holidays and weekends are excluded from the count. There are different interpretations of how to tally the accrual of days, and some experts are unable to arrive at definitive dates for a hard deadline.

Since the 1973 Home Rule Act, more than 4,500 legislative acts have been transmitted to Congress. Only three resolutions to disapprove a D.C. bill have been enacted — in 1979, 1981, and 1991.

Whether Congress will intervene is unclear, but House Republicans do intend to study the potential strain caused by decriminalizing marijuana in a city that they say utilizes federal court systems for prosecuting many offenses. (U.S. attorneys prosecute felonies under the D.C. Code in D.C.’s Superior Court.) That, plus the prominent presence of federal law enforcement agencies, are two tensions that will be examined in a May House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee hearing.

Members of the House Judiciary Committee indicated earlier this month they are keeping an eye on the legislation.

Even if decriminalization becomes law later this year, Congress can still amend or overturn it at any time. For example, members could to attach riders to D.C.’s appropriations bill, a method thwarted D.C.’s last effort to change pot policy — a 1998 ballot initiative to legalize medical marijuana — for more than a decade.

Clarification 5:01 p.m.

An earlier version of this post did not specify that while U.S. attorneys prosecute felonies under D.C. code, those prosecutions happen in D.C. Superior Court.

  • Jose

    It’s not just Congress that would have to step in, for it to be overturned Obama would have to sign it. Could you imagine what would happen if he did?

  • Brian Kelly B Bizzle

    Don’t be fooled by “decriminalization” because citizens are still going to be treated like common criminals for marijuana. This is what Kevin Sabet wants.

    Citizens will STILL be forced to the dangerous black market and a shady illegal street drug dealer to purchase their marijuana. Getting caught buying it is STILL a crime they will arrest and jail you for. Then, they will also FORCE you to mandatory rehab, and if you don’t comply, guess what? JAILTIME!

    No thanks!

    Also, we will still be wasting our tax dollars sending police around to ticket marijuana users and wasting police manpower and resources.

    Instead of allowing our police the time, manpower and resources to protect us all from real, dangerous criminals who actually commit crimes with victims and pose a real threat to society.

    Why else do you think they are so EAGER to “decriminalize”, instead of LEGALIZE?

    Don’t Let’em Fool You!!!


    • Jose

      If you actually read the legislation, this is the best decriminalization I have ever seen. It does not allow for a lawful method to obtain marijuana, but it is very good in all other respects. Doing this first is a very good strategy to get to full out legalization.

  • Jose

    Not only does Congress have to overturn it, but Obama would have to sign it. He would be tarred and feathered if he did.

  • Ama Zohn

    It is impossible to judge another person’s merit correctly unless we fully understand, among other things, their knowledge, talents, intellect, and ability to persist on tough tasks.

  • Raj Err

    While finding the most suitable way to apply our skills and abilities is perhaps the toughest task in a free country, it is a responsibility inseparable from liberty.

  • Rufus Peebody

    Even though liberty and free enterprise are proven to be the most effective ways to unleash civilization’s advance, the natural uncertainty associated with them sometimes motivates insecure people to rebel against them.

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