House committee blocks D.C. bill to decriminalize marijuana

In March, the D.C. Council to replace jail time for possession of small amounts of marijuana with a $25 fine. Hatchet File Photo
In March, the D.C. Council voted to replace jail time for possession of small amounts of marijuana with a $25 fine. Hatchet File Photo
A bill to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana in D.C. faced a major setback Wednesday when House Republicans voted to prevent the District from implementing the law.

Unless budget negotiations between the two chambers of Congress lead to restored funding for the law, the House Appropriations Committee just dealt a death blow to the D.C. Council’s effort to join the 17 states that keep many pot smokers out of jail, the Washington Post reported.

The Council voted in March to replace jail time for possession of up to one ounce of marijuana with a $25 fine. The legislation had been in a congressional review period and would have gone into effect in July without action from Congress.

Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., led the charge to block the law, proposing an amendment to a spending bill that would keep D.C. from using even its own tax income to roll out the measure.

Harris is Maryland’s only Republican congressman. Two months ago, Governor Martin O’Malley signed legislation decriminalizing marijuana.

D.C. lawmakers pushed to pass the decriminalization bill to reduce the racial gap in marijuana-related arrests in the District. Black residents are “eight times more likely than non-blacks to be arrested for marijuana possession,” according to a 2013 study by the D.C. chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

The District’s non-voting congresswoman, Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., issued a statement Tuesday before the following day’s vote and criticized Republicans for singling out the city’s decriminalization law.

“I had hoped that D.C. was in good company with the 17 states that had decriminalized marijuana before the city did,” Norton said. “We simply have to fight, and fight we will.”

House Republicans scrutinized D.C.’s decriminalization measure last month, but it was not clear at the time whether they would overrule D.C.’s legislative body.

D.C. decriminalization would not affect GW’s drug enforcement policies. University Police Department Chief Kevin Hay said in October that students caught smoking would still face disciplinary action.

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