DC delegate attacks effort to nullify pot law

Washington, D.C.'s congressional delegate is condemning the Republican effort to block the nation's capital from installing its newly passed law decriminalizing marijuana.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said Rep. Andy Harris's (R-Md.) proposal, which will be offered Wednesday as an amendment to D.C.'s 2015 spending bill, is hypocritical, offensive and will harm minorities in the District.

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“Representative Harris is not only trying to overrule the will of my constituents, to whom he is not accountable, he is acting contrary to the laws of his own state, which recently decriminalized marijuana,” Norton said in a statement.

“Surely, he should spend more time focused on bills and amendments to benefit his own Maryland constituents instead of introducing an amendment that will harm minorities, especially African Americans, in my district.”  

At issue is a new law, signed by D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray (D) in March, to decriminalize some recreational use of marijuana. Under the bill, those found carrying small amounts of the drug, or smoking it in the privacy of their homes, would no longer face criminal charges. Instead, they would pay civil penalties of just $25 – less than most parking tickets in the city. 

The law does not ease penalties for smoking pot in public, which would remain a jailable criminal offense. 

At least 18 other states, spanning a spectrum of political ideologies, have also decriminalized recreational marijuana to some extent.

The growing trend has been cheered by many human rights and prison reform advocates, who have long-criticized marijuana laws for being too harsh at the expense of non-violent offenders, particularly blacks and other minorities who are sentenced in disproportionate numbers. 

But critics, including many Capitol Hill Republicans, say they're worried about the D.C. law’s effects on public health and safety, as well as the signal it sends to the rest of the country.

Harris’s proposal aims to nullify D.C.'s law by prohibiting either federal or local funds from being used to implement it.

Norton accused Harris, a second-term Tea Party favorite, of contradicting the conservative mantra that Washington should stay out of local politics. 

“Rep. Harris can't overturn the marijuana decriminalization laws of the 18 states that have decriminalized marijuana so he has stooped to using autocratic, anti-democratic power to seek to overturn our local laws,” Norton said.  

“His constituents are going to be surprised to learn that their member, who argues for limiting the federal government's power over even traditionally federal matters, is offering an amendment that would insert the federal government into a local government's local affairs.”

Wednesday's markup in the House Appropriations Committee is scheduled for 10 a.m. in the Rayburn congressional office building.