GOP plotting to block DC’s new pot law
House Republicans next year will try to block Washington, D.C.’s, newly enacted law legalizing recreational marijuana.
Rep. Andy Harris said he “absolutely” intends to launch a push to dismantle the new law when Congress returns with an empowered GOP majority in the 114th Congress.
The Maryland Republican, who led the GOP’s charge this year against a separate D.C. law decriminalizing the drug, said the newer legalization statute poses an even greater health risk for young people in the nation’s capital.
“It’s obviously even worse for D.C.’s teenagers and young adults than the decriminalization,” Harris said Thursday.
Harris had contemplated a move to try to block the legalization law as part of Congress’s funding debate in this year’s lame-duck session, but because of time restraints he said he’s now eying action in early 2015.
“We have 30 legislative days [and] we probably don’t have eight legislative days left this year, so it’ll definitely go into the next Congress,” he said. “We can still do things in the next Congress [when] we’ll have more votes, more favorable votes.”
Earlier this year, Harris was successful in attaching an amendment to D.C.’s 2015 funding bill that would have nullified the city’s decriminalization law by simply barring funding for it. That package passed the Republican-controlled House, but the Democratically controlled Senate never took it up.
With Republicans poised to take over the upper chamber, he’s hoping to have better luck this time around.
“We can overturn the law, but if that doesn’t work we can defund [it],” he said. “Obviously, legalization is a long path, requiring a lot of regulations that have to be enforced. And so there’s a long path toward stopping the crazy policy toward legalizing marijuana in the District of Columbia.”
Harris hasn’t been alone in his opposition to the shift towards legalizing marijuana in D.C.
With the blessing of Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), Rep. John Mica (R-Calif.), head of the committee’s subpanel on Government Operations, held a series of hearings this year examining the enforcement of marijuana laws given the sharp discrepancy between federal statutes and those adopted by states that have legalized the drug. Mica’s most recent hearing focused specifically on the District.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who will replace Issa in the next Congress, has also been a critic of legalization efforts, warning in 2010 that “smoked marijuana is a health danger, not a cure, and therefore remains a harmful and dangerous drug for people of all ages.”
Chaffetz’s office did not respond Friday to a request for comment. But according to Politico, he said recently that he doesn’t intend to examine D.C.’s new law because it will already be in place by the time he has the reins of the committee.
That, however, might not be the case.
Although D.C. voters passed the legalization referendum on Nov. 4, the City Council hasn’t yet taken up accompanying legislation on how to implement it.
Under the unique rules governing the District of Columbia, Congress has different time-frames for considering – and potentially rejecting – new city laws. The window for civil laws is 30 legislative days; for criminal statutes, it opens to 60.
The office of outgoing-D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray said Friday that the City Council is still weighing its options, but the result could be multiple bills, including “sales and taxing authority” being considered by some on the council – authority that would fall into the civil category.
The office of D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson did not respond Friday to a request for comment about the implementing legislation.
Harris, for his part, said he hasn’t spoken with Chaffetz about the issue, but he intends to do so as part of an effort “educating people about the dangers of legalizing marijuana, especially on young adults and teenagers.”
Across the Capitol, Sen. Ron Johnson is wants to examine the issue as well. The Wisconsin Republican, who is poised to head the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in the next Congress, said this week that he intends to hold hearings “to highlight the issues, highlight the problem [and] try and define the problems,” Roll Call reported.
“That’s what we should really do,” he said.
D.C. voters this month overwhelmingly approved a measure permitting those over 21 to possess up to two ounces of marijuana, grow a small number of cannabis plants in their homes and transfer up to an ounce of the drug to another adult – if no money changes hands.
The question passed by a margin of 65 to 27 percent, with the balance of voters declining to weigh in.