GOP Could Push to Overturn Decriminalization in D.C.

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Recent comments from conservative lawmakers suggest some House Republicans may try to stop Washington, D.C., from decriminalizing marijuana.

U.S. Rep. John Fleming, Republican of Louisiana, said he plans to introduce legislation to overturn a vote by the District Council to reform the capital’s weed laws.

Rep. John Mica, Republican of Florida, who recently chaired a committee hearing on the topic, said at the time that he wasn’t interested in blocking the district’s new law. But he said his views are “evolving” – suggesting he might change his mind.marijuana plant close up

“It’s outrageous that Congress is trying to sabotage D.C.’s success in ending marijuana arrests,” said Grant Smith, deputy director of national affairs with the Drug Policy Alliance. “Congress should follow the lead of lawmakers in D.C. and reform federal marijuana laws.”

At a hearing of the House Oversight subcommittee, several Republican lawmakers said they weren’t interested in overturning the district’s vote. But during a recess in that meeting, Fleming told the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call that he would introduce a House resolution seeking to do just that.

“Any place that I can have a say, whether it’s nationally, whether it’s individual states, or even in the District of Columbia, I’m going to speak out about the dangers of marijuana,” Fleming said.

Sixteen states have already decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana, replacing jail time with small civil fines. Another two states, Washington and Colorado, have gone further and legalized pot entirely.

The Washington District Council voted earlier this year to replace criminal penalties for possession with a simple $25 fine. Toking in public would still be illegal, and carrying weed on federal property would remain a federal crime.

But under the constitution, Congress has the final say in any district policy. The decriminalization bill is currently under review by the House. Cannabis reform will die if lawmakers there vote to overturn it, if senators do the same, and if President Obama agrees.

“This is the only place I have a say,” Fleming said.

His comment unintentionally points to a signal problem with his plan: Very few people are paying attention to him, in or outside the capitol. Fleming insisted other congressmen were starting to come around to his point of view. “Several have come up to me to talk about it,” he said.

john flemmingThat support wasn’t evident at the committee hearing May 9. Several Republican members said they were uncomfortable with the new law but weren’t eager to stand in the way.

Even if the GOP-controlled House does vote to scrap the law, it probably wouldn’t make much difference. The Senate is led by Democrats who, though not generally big on legal weed, are much less likely to interfere with the inner workings of a city dominated by their own party. The same applies to Obama.

Still, Fleming’s comments show just how far the opposition is willing to go to prevent reform.

“It is inexcusable that congressional time and resources are being spent to criticize local officials for eliminating racist and ineffective marijuana laws when large swaths of the American public support an end to marijuana prohibition,” Smith said. “Members of Congress like Rep. John Fleming who say they are earnest about advancing public health and safety should take a hard look at the devastation wrought by marijuana prohibition.”

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