House aims to block DC from legalizing pot

House Republicans passed a measure Wednesday that would block funding for Washington, D.C.’s new measure decriminalizing marijuana, creating doubts about the law's implementation.


Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) tacked the measure onto a broader federal spending bill over the objections of Democrats who accused the GOP of hypocrisy.

Harris countered that the D.C. law was far too cavalier about marijuana, especially given that Washington has one of the highest rates in the country for using the drug. Plus, Harris noted that his proposal wouldn’t affect the capital’s medical marijuana law.

“Congress has the authority to stop irresponsible actions by local officials, and I am glad we did for the health and safety of children throughout the District,” said Harris, a second-term conservative and doctor.

“When I became a physician, I took an oath to do no harm, and decriminalizing marijuana will harm D.C. residents, especially youth. That’s why I took steps to stop its implementation.”

The broader appropriations bill that includes the marijuana rider now heads to the House floor, where it is also expected to pass. That means the rider’s ultimate fate could be decided in negotiations between the House and Senate over congressional spending measures.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) on Wednesday vowed to continue to fight the GOP proposal and said Harris violated traditional GOP principles of deferring to local governments. She also noted that Harris’s own state recently decriminalized marijuana, in a move opposed by the congressman.

“Representative Harris, a Tea Party supporter, threw his local-control principles to the wind,” Norton said, adding that the congressman “appears to be following in the most exploitive tradition of some Republicans who try to use D.C. to establish their conservative bona fides and raise their national profiles by interfering in the District’s local affairs.”

The House Appropriations Committee passed several other riders dealing with D.C. on Wednesday, including a measure to bar funding for abortions that the panel has also cleared in previous years.

The new D.C. marijuana law, signed in March, would keep those discovered carrying smaller amounts of marijuana from facing criminal penalties. The civil penalties would amount to a $25 fine, among the lowest in the country and less steep than many parking tickets.

Along with Maryland and D.C., more than 15 other states have also decriminalized marijuana to some degree.

Mike Lillis contributed.