City Desk

House Committee Votes to Block D.C. Marijuana Decriminalization Law

House Committee Votes to Block D.C.'s Marijuana Decriminalization Law

The District's law wiping out most criminal penalties for marijuana is officially under attack by national Republicans: The GOP-controlled House Appropriations Committee voted Wednesday to insert an amendment that would gut the decriminalization law into a massive—and unrelated—spending bill.

The amendment, introduced by Republican Rep. Andy Harris of Maryland, would prevent the city from spending any money to implement the law. All of the money the District spends—even the money it gets from local taxpayers—has to be approved by Congress, which is what gives people elected elsewhere the power to block the law through the appropriations process. 

Today's 28-21 vote fell largely along party lines, except for one lone Democrat, Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas, who voted with the committee's Republicans in favor of the amendment.

“As a physician, I have read study after study on the devastating effects of marijuana use, especially on developing brains of teenagers," Harris said in a statement after the vote. "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."

Marijuana is currently decriminalized in Maryland,  the state which Harris represents.

During the hearing, Rep. Jose Serrano, a New York Democrat, said Congress shouldn't be meddling in local D.C. affairs, suggesting that those who want to interfere should run for D.C. Council.

"I think that local elected officials and law enforcement organizations are more than capable of deciding what local criminal law should be," Serrano said.

The amendment would still have to pass through the full House and the Senate and get President Barack Obama's signature before it actually blocks D.C. from spending money to implement decriminalization.

In March, Mayor Vince Gray signed the local bill that would decriminalize possession of up to an ounce of marijuana in the city and slap offenders with a $25 fine instead of jail time. 

Photo of marijuana via Shutterstock

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