GOP weighing next move on DC pot

Congressional Republicans are weighing their next move as D.C. officials shift ever closer to legalizing marijuana in the nation's capital.

The D.C. Council this week approved legislation to decriminalize some recreational use of the drug, prompting criticism from some conservatives wary of both the effects on public health and safety, and the signal it sends to the rest of the country.

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But GOP leaders on the House Oversight Committee have not decided if they'll attempt to block the measure, and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) was equally inconclusive when asked about the proposal Wednesday.

“I really haven't seen what the D.C. Council did, but I'm sure we'll look at it,” Boehner said during a press briefing in the Capitol.

Under the proposal, smoking pot in public would remain a jailable criminal offense. But those found carrying small amounts of the drug — or smoking it in the privacy of their homes — would face civil penalties of just $25.

Passed 10-1 by the D.C. Council on Tuesday, it is expected to be signed soon by D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray (D).

Under the distinctive rules governing the District of Columbia, Congress will have 60 days to reject the proposal before it takes effect. 

Such a rejection is highly unusual and unlikely, because both the House and the Senate would have to approve a veto measure. But some Democrats are expecting some show of Republican opposition, if only so GOP leaders can score political points with their conservative base in an election year.

“I certainly do anticipate it will be opposed. Whether it will be sufficient to block it remains to be seen,” Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), a member of the Oversight panel, said Wednesday.

“I don't think it's a given that it's a strict party vote,” Connolly added, referring to libertarian-minded Republicans sympathetic to marijuana legalization.

Rep. James Lankford (R-Okla.) is one vocal opponent. Lankford, a member of the Oversight Committee who also chairs the Republican Policy Committee, said it's too early to predict how GOP leaders would handle the D.C. measure when it lands in their laps, but he fears the economic impacts if the proposal becomes law.

“I don't think it helps productivity in a community. I don't think it helps the economy of a community. I don't think it helps job growth and investment or encouraging people to come and build new businesses,” Lankford said Wednesday. “Decriminalizing it …  I don't think that sends the right message to the next generation or the current working generation.”

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who heads the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said Wednesday he has "a call in" to D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) about the issue but has not made a decision about his next step.

“I'm a little concerned, not about the penalty for someone carrying a small amount of marijuana, but about the distribution systems and so-on within the District,” Issa said Wednesday.

Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the Oversight Committee's Government Operations subpanel, has staged a series of hearings this year to examine various aspects of the nationwide shift toward marijuana legalization. News of the D.C. Council vote broke Tuesday afternoon, in the midst of his latest gathering.

“It caused quite a stir, and there are some people concerned about it,” Mica said Wednesday. 

Mica emphasized, however, that D.C.-specific issues come under jurisdiction of the full committee, leaving decisions about how to react to the D.C. proposal in the hands of Issa.

“It's up to him if he wants to do something, but since I've started this [hearing] series, I asked him, 'Do you want me to do something?' He said he's taking it under advisement,” Mica said. “So, again, I don't know where it's going, I honestly don't know. 

“It's a bunch of interesting questions that need to be sorted through.”