The Obama Administration has pushed back hard against Congress’s attempt to gut the recently-passed marijuana decriminalization law in Washington, DC. The Office of Management and Budget memo explains that Congressional meddling “undermines the principles of States’ rights and District home rule”
Lawmakers in the District passed the law that treats possession of an ounce of marijuana as a non-arrestable civil infraction with a nation’s-lowest fine of just $25. Congress has final say over all laws passed in the District, but let the deadline pass for the decrim law without comment, which takes effect on Thursday.
However, Rep. Andy Harris, a Republican from Maryland, attached an amendment to an appropriations bill that would prevent the District from using any of its local funds to implement marijuana law reforms. Its primary intent seems to be the blocking of the decriminalization law, with a secondary goal of forestalling an attempt this November to legalize marijuana outright through an initiative petition recently submitted by activists. Coincidentally, Rep. Harris’ home state of Maryland recently decriminalized the possession of ten grams of marijuana.
“[T]he Administration strongly opposes the language in the bill preventing the District from using its own local funds to carry out locally-passed marijuana policies,” the administration admonishes in its Statement of Administration Policy on H.R. 5016, “which again undermines the principles of States’ rights and of District home rule. Furthermore, the language poses legal challenges to the Metropolitan Police Department’s enforcement of all marijuana laws currently in force in the District.”
That last part refers to the unintended consequence of Rep. Harris’ ham-fisted attempt to stop decriminalization from happening. His amendment would bar the District from spending money on marijuana reforms, but not arresting people doesn’t cost a dime. It is conceivable that Rep. Harris’ amendment would mean District Police couldn’t write the $25 ticket for pot possession and the courts couldn’t process the tickets even if they were written, since all of those activities cost salaries and printing costs.
Another indication of how far marijuana reform has come in some Washington DC circles is that the memo chastises Harris’ amendment for restricting the District from using local funds for abortion services for the same “States’ rights” reasoning as marijuana reform. In five years, we’ve gone from President Obama chuckling that “I don’t know what that says about the online audience” when they rate marijuana legalization as a top priority in online polls to the president giving it the same political gravitas as the abortion rights issue.