IN APPROVING a measure that aims to stop the District from decriminalizing marijuana, House Republicans ignored the fact that an increasing number of states have taken a similar step and that two have gone so far as to legalize the drug. They seem to have forgotten that less than a month ago the House approved the first pro-marijuana bill in congressional history, voting to prohibit use of federal funds to stop medical marijuana in states that allow it. Most of all, they seem to have forgotten that Republicans are supposed to be the folks who abhor federal interference in local affairs.
The only thing that seemed to matter to House Republicans as they trampled on the District’s home rule is that they could. As Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) baldly put it: “Whether or not we should do it, we can debate it, but we have the jurisdiction to do it.”
Mr. Harris was the instigator of an amendment approved Wednesday by the Appropriations Committee that blocks funding for a new city law eliminating criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana. The bill, passed by the D.C. Council, was signed by Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) in March and is in the middle of a mandatory 60-day congressional review period.
We’ve been skeptical about outright legalization of marijuana, but we think the District was right to decriminalize it, which calls for ticketing minor offenders. It’s a compromise that discourages drug use but tries to mitigate the racial injustices and wrecked lives that have resulted from imprisoning marijuana users. The District is hardly alone in this choice: A third of the states have eliminated criminal penalties. One is Mr. Harris’s home state , an irony that doesn’t seem to have registered. “It is particularly offensive that he is trying to impose on another member’s district what he was unable to do democratically in his own,” said Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.).
As Ms. Norton pointed out, Mr. Harris is following in the footsteps of countless politicians who have used the District as a pawn to raise their national profiles or burnish their conservative bona fides. Interfering in the District’s local affairs allows Mr. Harris to say he’s tough on drugs, never mind the consequences.
Let’s hope empty bragging rights are all that result. By defunding decriminalization without removing it from the books, the measure could effectively legalize pot, since the District couldn’t spend any funds on enforcement. If the full House doesn’t make short work of this misguided measure, the Senate or White House should make clear that the local affairs of D.C. residents are best left to their locally elected officials.