Will Congress Keep D.C. From Decriminalizing Marijuana?



Congress may move to block Washington, D.C.'s efforts to decriminalize marijuana possession. The District Council voted for decriminalization in March, bringing the punishment for carrying small amounts of pot in line with the price of a city parking ticket. Every piece of legislation passed by the D.C. Council is subject to congressional approval, a process that the Washington City Paper says "typically passes without much fanfare." But because of the controversial nature of marijuana decriminalization—and the fact that it clashes with federal law—this particular D.C. law is drawing stronger scrutiny, including a House subcommittee hearing Friday at which legislators expressed their doubts. 

Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), a member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, called the hearing, saying it was an attempt to address differences between federal and D.C. laws. The new D.C. law, which could take effect in July if approved, would end criminal penalties for possessing an ounce or less of marijuana—currently a crime punishable by up to $1,000 and six months in jail. Under the new rules, possession would result in a $25 fine. 

At Friday's hearing, Mica—brandishing a fake joint—said he hadn't yet decided whether Congress should approve the law. The "joint" was there to illustrate what Mica evidently finds a scary proposition: Under D.C. decriminalization, people could walk around with 20 of those babies and not even get thrown in jail for months. 

D.C.'s notorious racial disparities in drug arrests and prosecutions were a rallying cry for decriminalization advocates. But Mica said said he's "not certain that changing the penalty in the District of Columbia is going to benefit that population that much."

After the hearing, Micah told AP his views on marijuana decriminalization were "evolving." No such potential change of heart is coming from Rep. John Fleming (R-La.), who told CQ Roll Call he intends to introduce a House resolution to block the District's decriminalization law. Fleming apparently fancies himself sort of marijuana decrim-avenging superhero:

"Any place that I can have a say—whether it's nationally, whether it's individual states, or even in the District of Columbia—I'm going to speak out about the dangers of marijuana," said Fleming. He also claimed that some of his libertarian-leaning colleagues were coming around to his views on marijuana, proving Fleming is either a liar or a little bit fuzzy on reality.  

If Congress does block the decriminalization law, it wouldn't be the first time it interfered with the will of the people of D.C. and their elected officials when it comes to marijuana: In 1998, D.C. voters approved a medical marijuana referendum that Congress prevented from taking effect for 11 years. David O'Neil, acting assistant attorney general with the Justice Department, said his agency would treat D.C. the same way it treats other states that have decriminalized marijuana, by focusing on large-scale drug trafficking and distribution or drugs on federal property.

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  1. I saw a car with DC plates — “Taxation without representation” — the other day. I’m in CA so it’s an unusual sight.

    My first thought was “fuck DC.” My second thought was also “fuck DC.” Then my third thought was, “hey, that doesn’t seem right that the feds have control over a city like that.” But then my fourth through sixth thoughts were “fuck DC.”

    So I’m torn.

    1. I mean, aside from the government(s), DC is a nice place.

      1. Without government(s), what else is there?

        I mean, don’t people go to DC for the government(s)?

      2. It’s a beautiful city to walk around. But underneath, lies something so ugly that it’s almost beyond comprehension.

      3. Yep, sort of what I meant. I’m from Oakland so we are similar — great city, poorly governed — but with better weather. And without an economy propped up by people sucking value out of everywhere else.

        1. Are you a Raiders fan? If so, what do you think about the Mack pick?

          1. Yes, and I liked it. Although given our history the guy taken next (Jake Matthews) will probably end up being a 10-time Pro Bowler.

            1. Wasn’t his dad a 10 time Pro Bowler? Its a good bet, if so.

              1. His dad and his uncle both played for like 20 years and made it to many Pro Bowls, and his cousin has made several Pro Bowls already. so it seems likely. I wonder how many pairs of cousins there have been playing in the NFL simultanously.

            2. I guess they took the best guy available instead of reaching for the ‘fastest’ whatever in the draft, a corner. It’s hard to criticize the pick, and I’m not doing so.

              I don’t have much faith in Reggie. Just being realistic. I know what he is trying to do, is to apparently, get rid of every single trace of the Al era, and start over. I just don’t think he knows WTF he’s doing.

              1. Are you a Raiders fan? Because that could’ve been written by my long-time black hole denizen coworker!

                1. Since I was 9 years old.

        2. BTW, the weather in DC(I’m in Baltimore), is pretty damn nice most of the year. It’s more hot and humid in part of the summer, than Oaktown, and colder in the winter for a few months, but still, if you’ve ever lived in the midwest, it’s not bad at all, climate wise.

          1. The few times I’ve been to DC the weather was great. But Oakland secretly has some of the best weather in the US — Mediterranean climate and is protected from the coastal fog and moisture by the bay and SF peninsula, and from the inland heat/cold by the hills.

            1. Yeah, I know. I’ve never lived there. But I lived in Simi Valley, CA for 5 years. Every day was just another nice day. I don’t think it even rained during the day or the sun didn’t shine for that entire 5 years.

    2. Since in the end most of Congress seems to think that their job is to represent Washington to the country rather then be the country’s representive in Washington I think DC is way over represented

      1. This, they are essentially represented without commensurate taxation.

    3. The first time I saw one of those, in Balmer, a short while after I started working there, I thought it was some sort of a joke or something.

      Then I thought about the irony of it. We are pretty much all, everywhere in the county, living that license plate. The fact that the district that’s making it happen would make that plate, is hysterical. Although I doubt that they get the joke.

  2. I’m old enough to remember when Team Red pretended to be the party of smaller government. Sure, it was a weak pretense, but at least they felt the need to pretend.

  3. A bit OT, but why do all the REASON articles on pot bring up disparate impact? I know the progs are supposed to care, but don’t, but does any libertarian? I just always thought any act that didn’t violation another persons rights should be legal because It’s none of my damn business. Not because more people from group A would be locked up than group B.

    1. I brought it up because a) it was a big talking point among advocates pushing for decriminalization, and b) I thought Mica’s quote was weird.

      1. Ever arrow in the quiver and all that but I also worry that pushing the disparate impact angle really robs the key point of it’s strength. I also think that the drug warrior faithful’s response is often “well just make the (draconian) penalties equal for everyone, duh!

        1. I also worry that pushing the disparate impact angle really robs the key point of it’s strength.

          It does. It’s why getting real traction on police violence, brutality and accountability doesn’t seem to be getting real traction.

          There have even been noises from the identity politics industry that they’re fine with the violence and brutality of police forces, if only they were applied equally.

          No one (except 22 or so libertarians) wants to question the entire way police forces do their job.

    2. In the NYC article, I assumed highlighting “disparate impact” was just hoisting De Blasio on his own canard.

  4. But Mica said said he’s “not certain that changing the penalty in the District of Columbia is going to benefit that population that much.”

    Making pretty clear his view of who “the population” are. The people who fund his campaigns and play golf with him don’t need this, they can afford the lawyers to get the result they need if they were ever to find themselves in that situation, so what’s all the fuss.

    Fuck this guy. Hard.

    1. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) asked Mica whether he’d rolled it himself. “No, I had staff do it,” Mica said in response. “They have more experience.”

      Marijuana decriminalization is *joke* to you?

  5. He also claimed that some of his libertarian-leaning colleagues were coming around to his views on marijuana, proving Fleming is either a liar or a little bit fuzzy on reality.

    Not so fast, Elizabeth! No one can deny the possibility that Fleming misspoke due to the effects of his drug of choice.

  6. I have this joint here,” Mica said. “Don’t get too excited out there, some of you, this is not a real one, unlike in David Gregory’s stunt, it’s a mock one.”

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