House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) wouldn't say Wednesday whether Congress might intervene to block a new law in the District that partially decriminalized marijuana possession, saying he was not familiar with the move.
The D.C. Council voted Tuesday to partially decriminalize pot by imposing civil fines rather than jail time for most offenses. The District joins 17 states that have taken similar action but doesn’t go as far as Colorado or Washington state, where residents voted to legalize the sale and taxation of marijuana.
Asked about the vote Wednesday by The Washington Post during one of his weekly media availabilities, Boehner said: "I really haven't seen what the D.C. Council did, but I'm sure we'll look at it."
Under the change, possessing marijuana and smoking it in the privacy of one’s home would no longer be criminal offenses in the nation’s capital. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) intends to sign the bill.
But the District’s unique rules of governance require the bill to sit before a congressional committee for about two months before it becomes law. On Tuesday, a spokesman for Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who chairs the House Oversight Committee that oversees D.C. affairs, declined to comment on what the panel might do.
Congressional opponents of looser drug laws could still try to undermine the measure through the District’s annual congressional budget review. Congress repeatedly used riders in appropriations bills tied to District funding to suspend a voter-approved medical marijuana program from 1998 to 2010, when it was finally able to proceed.
Outside the appropriations process, the House and Senate have banded together only three times since 1979 to reject a proposed D.C. law.
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Aaron Davis contributed to this report.