WASHINGTON, D.C. - Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) today reassured District of Columbia residents that she will defend the District's marijuana legalization initiative (Initiative 71), expected to be overwhelmingly approved tonight, from any and all congressional attempts to block or overturn it. However, Norton warned residents that Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) is still looking for ways to undo the will of D.C. residents. Harris told The Hill last week, "If legalization passes, I will consider using all resources available to a member of Congress to stop this action..." Norton said that Harris' interference with a marijuana legalization initiative stimulated by racial injustice is particularly objectionable. An American Civil Liberties Union of the Nation's Capital study of the District, where about half the residents are Black, found that Blacks are eight times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than non-Blacks, and 91 percent of all marijuana-related arrests are of Black residents, even though Blacks and Whites use marijuana at the same rate. She said that no Member of Congress has the right to intervene with the city's right to self-government and its attempt to erase almost unheard-of racial disparities.
"The people have spoken," Norton said. "And D.C. residents can rest assured that when a mandate comes directly from the people, they haven't seen a fight like the fight I'm preparing to make against Rep. Andy Harris and any other Member of Congress who attempts to undo our democratic process. Initiative 71 is not just about the legalization of marijuana; it addresses an intolerable racial disparity in our city that has crippled the life chances of countless African Americans and Hispanics. We have not been able to conquer the racial disparity between Black and White marijuana convictions. What we can do with legalization is to take away the instrument that causes this inequality."
Just today, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) told Roll Call that D.C. voters alone, not Congress, should decide whether to legalize marijuana. Paul said, "I'm not for having the federal government get involved. I really haven't taken a stand on...the actual legalization...but I'm against the federal government telling them they can't." Norton said that Senator Paul's statement was particularly noteworthy because it was unrelated to the underlying marijuana legalization issue, and was based entirely on the democratic principle of local self-government free from federal interference.
In July, the District's marijuana decriminalization bill took effect. That same month, the House passed the fiscal year 2015 D.C. Appropriations bill, which, under an amendment sponsored by Harris, would prohibit the District from spending its local funds to decriminalize or legalize marijuana. Norton kept the amendment from being included in the Senate's fiscal year 2015 D.C. Appropriations bill or in the fiscal year 2015 short-term continuing resolution, which expires on December 11. Since passage of the Harris amendment, Norton has been working with her allies in the Senate and outside Congress to keep the Harris amendment out of the final fiscal year 2015 D.C. Appropriations bill. The Obama Administration has called on Congress to reject the Harris amendment. The Statement of Administration Policy on the House's fiscal year 2015 D.C. Appropriations bill said the administration "strongly opposes" the bill's prohibition on the District spending its own local funds to implement its local marijuana policies because it violates the "principle of States' rights and of District home rule."
Twenty-three states have legalized medical marijuana, 18 states have decriminalized marijuana, and two states have legalized marijuana. A February 2014 Pew Research Center poll found that 54% of Americans support marijuana legalization.