District of Columbia Lawmakers Expected to Pass Emergency Resolutions Today Opposing Republican-Led Effort in Congress to Block Marijuana Law Reform in D.C.

Press Release July 13, 2014
Media Contact

<p>Contact: Tony Newman (646) 335-5384 or Dr. Malik Burnett (202) 683-2983</p>

Washington, D.C. – This morning the Council of the District of Columbia is expected to pass two emergency resolutions opposing a recent effort led by U.S. House Representative Andy Harris (R-MD) to use congressional oversight to block the District of Columbia from spending any of its locally-raised revenues to enact marijuana reform.

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. District residents have begun organizing a boycott of Ocean City, part of Rep. Harris's congressional district, as a show of their disapproval of Rep. Harris's intervention in D.C. affairs.

“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.”

The amendment passed by the House Committee on Appropriations wouldn't take effect until later this year, assuming it passes the House and Senate and is signed by the president. Advocates also warn that enactment of this amendment into federal law could block implementation of Initiative 71 by local officials, should D.C. voters pass it this November, and block efforts by local lawmakers to tax and regulate adult marijuana sales.  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.

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.

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.

“Andy Harris has lost sight of conservative principles.” said Dr. Burnett.  “He is using the mechanisms of Big Government to interfere in the daily lives of the American people. His Republican colleagues should be concerned about the message he is sending with this effort.”

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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