In a Statement of Administration Policy yesterday the White House expressed strong opposition to a Republican amendment by Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) that is directed at blocking implementation of a recent law the District of Columbia passed replacing jail time for possessing small amounts of marijuana for personal use with a small fine. The statement calls marijuana reform a "states' rights" issue, a groundbreaking policy position for the White House to take. The D.C. Council also passed a resolution condemning congressional interference yesterday.
"It is great to see the White House accepting that a majority of Americans want marijuana law reform and defending the right of D.C. and states to set their own marijuana policy," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs. "The tide has clearly shifted against the failed war on drugs and it's only a matter of time before federal law is changed."
The White House Statement of Administration Policy reads: "Similarly, the Administration strongly opposes the language in the bill preventing the District from using its own local funds to carry out locally- passed marijuana policies, 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."
On June 25th, the House Appropriations Committee adopted an amendment by Rep. Harris that is directed at blocking implementation of a recent law the District of Columbia passed replacing jail time for possessing small amounts of marijuana for personal use with a small fine. If included in the 2015 federal budget, the rider would block the District from carrying out any law, rule or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce criminal penalties for marijuana.
Advocates warn the rider would overrule the will of D.C. voters should they pass Initiative 71 this fall and block efforts to tax and regulate adult sales of marijuana in the District. If passed by D.C. voters, Initiative 71 would allow adults over the age of 21 to possess up to two ounces of marijuana on their person at any time, and allow for the cultivation of up to six marijuana plants at home. District law prevents the ballot initiative from addressing the sale of marijuana. However, the D.C. Council is currently considering a bill that will tax and regulate marijuana within the District. Washington, D.C. residents have begun organizing a boycott of Ocean City, MD, part of Rep. Harris's congressional district, as a show of their disapproval of Rep. Harris's intervention in D.C. affairs.
The "Marijuana Possession Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2014," adopted by the D.C. Council in April, replaces criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana with a $25 civil fine for possession as well as forfeiture of the marijuana and any paraphernalia used to consume or carry it. This new D.C. law is expected to take effect on Thursday following the expiration of a federally mandated review period before Congress. However, House Republicans could halt local implementation of the marijuana decriminalization law if the Harris rider is attached to any federal spending measures that pass later this year.
"That Congressman Andy Harris would try to kill D.C.'s efforts to stop arresting people for marijuana possession is beyond disturbing," said Dr. Malik Burnett, D.C. policy manager with the Drug Policy Alliance. "This amendment is an affront to the District's right to home rule, while ensuring that thousands of District residents continue to be arrested and suffer the collateral consequences associated with a criminal record. Congress should be following D.C.'s example and end racist marijuana arrest policies, instead of defying the will of the people and reversing their decision."
Recent polls show broad support among District residents for following in the steps of Colorado and Washington and legalizing marijuana. The District of Columbia currently has the highest per capita marijuana arrest rates in the U.S. In 2010 African Americans in the District accounted for 91 percent of all marijuana arrests - even though African-American and white residents use marijuana at roughly similar rates.