House Republicans will soon take a closer look at a recently passed D.C. bill decriminalizing marijuana in the nation's capital.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said Friday that the Government Operations subpanel, led by Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), will examine the new law when Congress returns from its two-week spring recess.
Such a rejection is highly unusual, as it would require action by both the House and Senate. But a public hearing would offer critics – including a number of conservatives on the Oversight panel – a forum to air their concerns in an election year.
Issa declined to weigh in on the substance of the D.C. bill, saying, “I'm going to wait until after the hearing.”
He suggested the examination would focus on the enforcement questions created by the discrepancies between federal marijuana laws and those enacted by state and local governments – an issue even more complicated in the case of D.C., which falls under partial control of Congress.
“The will of a city versus the will of the nation is always going to be a bit of a challenge, and we're seeing this unfold [with the marijuana law]," Issa told The Hill Friday. “This is an area in transition where The District neither should lead nor be held unreasonably not to be able to follow. And so how it gets reviewed in light of the federal enforcement and so on I think remains to be seen.”
Under the proposal, smoking marijuana 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 in lieu of criminal charges.
The bill was transmitted to Congress on Monday, just after Gray signed it.
In adopting the measure, D.C. follows more than a dozen states that have moved in recent years to decriminalize marijuana. Colorado and Washington state have gone a step further, legalizing the recreational use of the drug altogether.
The growing trend has sparked great controversy, however, and a number of Republicans, including Mica, have voiced concerns that the lesser penalties in D.C. could promote drug use and create economic and public health problems for the city.
“You don't want the nation's capital to become the drug capital,” Mica said Thursday. “You find usually when you lower the penalties – whether its the Netherlands or some other jurisdiction – that you attract a lot of undesirable narcotics traffic.”
Mica said he’s also worried that an acceptance of marijuana would lead to greater use of more dangerous drugs like cocaine and heroin.
“There are gateway concerns as well,” he said.
The office of Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said this week that the decision whether to review the measure rests with Issa and the committee.
Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.), senior Democrat on the Oversight panel, expressed some reservations about D.C.'s move to decriminalize pot for non-medical purposes. But he was quick to add that he would never prevent the city from installing statutes it had adopted.
“I wouldn't stand in the way of D.C. passing its law,” Cummings said.
Issa, meanwhile, hinted there might be rising opposition from yet another group of people: D.C. drivers.
“Having the level of fine for marijuana be less than a parking ticket,” Issa quipped, “offends those of us who park in the city.”