Norton: House Republicans may block D.C. marijuana decriminalization

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Recently passed legislation that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana in the District is expected to come under fire Wednesday by Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill, Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton warned.

The District’s nonvoting congressional representative sounded the alarm a day ahead of a markup hearing by the House Appropriations Committee that would include the D.C. appropriations bill.

Ms. Norton said Tuesday that no amendment to block the decriminalization law had been filed, but that reports “from multiple sources” alerted her that Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee might introduce an amendment on the subject.

She did not name the lawmakers thought to be considering the amendment, but activists took aim at Maryland Rep. Andy Harris as the possible source of a forthcoming amendment, citing both his position on the committee and prior attacks against the use of medical marijuana.

“That Rep. Harris would offer this amendment shows how far out of touch he is with voters and leaders in his own state of Maryland, which just enacted popular laws to decriminalize marijuana possession and allow certified medical patients to purchase marijuana from dispensaries,” said Tom Angell, chairman of the group Marijuana Majority, which seeks to highlight calls by industry leaders and celebrities to change current marijuana laws.

Mr. Harris‘ office did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

Mr. Harris, a Republican, is an anesthesiologist who has previously criticized use of medical marijuana, calling its use “neither safe nor legal.”

DC Vote, an organization that champions the right for city residents to have voting representation in Congress, also chastised the Maryland lawmaker.

“Just like in the states, the District’s elected leaders should determine practical policy related to local laws,” said DC Vote Executive Director Kimberly Perry. “Rep. Harris‘ attempts to impose his personal views upon a group of Americans who have no vote in Congress is deeply offensive.”

The D.C. Council in March adopted legislation to make possession of 1 ounce or less of marijuana punishable by a civil fine of $25 while preserving criminal penalties for smoking pot in public.

As with all D.C. laws, the legislation had to undergo a period of congressional review by Congress before taking effect. The estimated date the legislation would take effect is July 17.

During the review period, federal lawmakers can file a disapproval resolution seeking to derail local laws. Rather than use that approach, Ms. Norton said this attempt to stop the law’s implementation is coming through a rider on the city’s appropriations bill.

Riders have in the past been a far more successful approach for federal lawmakers seeking to hold city-approved laws at bay.

D.C. voters supported a medical marijuana program in 1998, but a congressional rider known as the Barr Amendment delayed implementation of the law until 2009. Only over the course of the last year has the city been able to get a medical marijuana program up and running.

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