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House GOP Will Attempt to Block DC Marijuana Decriminalization

A Maryland representative says he plans to block the District's plans.
Photograph via Shutterstock.

This was expected: A member of Congress is going to try to derail the District’s marijuana decriminalization law by introducing an amendment blocking its implementation.

Representative Andy Harris, a Maryland Republican, says he’ll attach his amendment to the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill, an annual piece of legislation which authorizes funding for, among other things, the District’s budget, Roll Call reports.

Mayor Vince Gray signed the decriminalization legislation into law in March, but because Congress gets 60 working days to review laws that affect the District’s judicial system, it will not take effect until mid-July. Harris’s amendment would not techincally overturn it, but it would prohibit the District from using either federal funds or its own local revenue to decriminalize marijuana. (The District’s budget, while approved by the DC Council, is still subject to federal review.)

“I had hoped that D.C. was in good company with the 17 states that had decriminalized marijuana before the city did,” DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton says in a press release. Among those 17 states is Harris’s. Governor Martin O’Malley signed a law in April that removes criminal penalties for possession of ten grams or less of cannabis.

The District’s decriminalization law replaces criminal penalties for possesson of less than one ounce with fines of $25. It was passed, in part, to alleviate a grave disparity in the marijuana arrest rates between black residents and white residents. Black residents are eight times as likely as white residents to be arrested for marijuana, even though the rate of use is even between the groups, according to an ACLU study published last year.

Harris’s office did not return requests for comment. But while he says he doesn’t like his home state’s newly relaxed stance on small-time pot possession, he seems eager to futz with the District’s.

“The Constitution treats the District of Columbia and Maryland differently,” he tells Roll Call.

But Harris may be living in a pipe dream. Even if his amendment clears the Appropriations Committee and the House at large, it would still need to clear the Democratic-controlled Senate and be signed by President Obama to take nullify DC’s decriminalization effort.

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Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.