House subcommittee will examine D.C.’s move to decriminalize marijuana

April 22, 2014

Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), seen in 2010, will put his subcommittee’s spotlight on the D.C. marijuana decriminalization law. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

A House Oversight subcommittee is set to examine the District’s recent move to decriminalize marijuana — a possible first step, D.C.’s congressional delegate warned, toward the overturning of the locally passed act.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) said she plans to testify next month at a hearing of the government operations subcomittee focusing on the decriminalization measure, which passed the D.C. Council last month and which Norton called “a victory for D.C. residents and the cause of racial justice.”

In a statement, she criticized the House Republicans controlling the subcommittee, which is chaired by Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), for singling out the District’s law.

“It is inappropriate to hold a hearing on the local marijuana laws of only one jurisdiction, the District of Columbia, when 18 states have decriminalized marijuana, 21 states have legalized medical marijuana and two states have legalized marijuana,” she said. “There is nothing that distinguishes the District from these states except for Congress’s illegitimate power to overturn the democratically enacted local laws of the District.”

Becca Glover Watkins, a spokeswoman for the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, did not confirm the scheduling of a D.C.-focused hearing but said in a statement that the subcommittee is justified in examining the District’s law “as part of its broader examination of tension between federal and local marijuana laws in many jurisdictions.”

The subcommittee, Watkins said, “has conducted an ongoing examination of the tension between federal laws against marijuana use and distribution with local laws in places like Colorado.” A March 4 hearing included the testimony of the U.S. attorney for Colorado who testified about his approach to enforcing federal drug laws in a state where marijuana is now legal.

Serious crimes in the District are prosecuted by the Justice Department, and Watkins noted that many federal law enforcement agencies have a “significant presence” in the nation’s capital: “How will these agencies enforce the law?”

The District’s decriminalization act is now amid a 60-day congressional review period, which is expected to elapse in mid-July. For Congress to overturn the act, both houses would have to pass a joint resolution which would then have to be signed by President Obama. The last time the federal government so acted was in 1991.

Mike DeBonis covers Congress and national politics for The Washington Post. He previously covered D.C. politics and government from 2007 to 2015.
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Mike DeBonis · April 22, 2014