Congress Gets Final Say on Decriminalizinhg Pot in DC

Saturday, 05 Apr 2014 03:47 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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A House subpanel will review the Washington, D.C., plan to decriminalize marijuana in the nation's capital to determine if it should be blocked.

Even though D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray signed the bill on Monday, rules governing the capitol give Congress 60 days to block proposals, reports The Hill. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa said Friday that the Government Operations subpanel will examine the new law after Congress returns from its two-week spring recess.

Issa said he is going to wait until after the hearing to discuss the new bill in detail, but noted that the proceedings will likely discuss the discrepancies between federal, state, and local marijuana laws.

"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 said. "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."

Smoking marijuana in public remains a jailable criminal offense under the bill. But people found in possession of marijuana or smoking it in their homes would receive a small fine of $25 and no criminal charges.

Congress has received the bill, and since it takes action by both the House and Senate, such measures are usually not rejected. Republicans, including Government Operations Chairman John Mica, R-Fla., are concerned that the low fines could promote drug use in the city.

"You don't want the nation's capital to become the drug capital,” Mica said. “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 is also worried that the law could create a "gateway" effect leading to the use of other drugs like heroin and cocaine.

But Mica and other Republicans will face opposition by Democrats on the committee. Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, the Oversight panel's senior Democrat, said he has some reservations about the proposed bill, but said he "wouldn't stand in the way of D.C. passing its law."

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