The White House said President Obama opposes an effort by Republican lawmakers to overturn a recent vote that decriminalized marijuana possession in Washington, D.C.

obama smilingOn July 15 the White House released a statement saying the president wouldn’t support the effort to stop marijuana reform in the capital. The Obama administration said cannabis law is a matter of states’ rights, one of his strongest statements in favor of local control over the drug.

The District Council voted to decriminalize weed earlier this year. The new policy would impose a $25 civil ticket on people caught with small amounts of pot, rather than incarceration or large criminal fines.

GOP Amendment Would Block Decriminalization

Late last month, Republicans in the House of Representatives passed a budget amendment that would block the District from enforcing the policy. The drive to stop the ordinance was led by U.S. Rep. Andy Harris of Maryland.

Many District residents and city leaders were irate with Harris for meddling in local affairs. Washington is a home-rule city, but Congress still has the power to overturn any law passed by the District Council.

The White House said Harris’ amendment would stop the District “from using its own local funds to carry out locally passed marijuana policies, which again undermines the principles of States’ rights and of District home rule.”

Without President, Amendment May Be Dead

The administration has taken a relatively hands-off approach to local laws legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana, though criminal prosecutions occur unabated in some parts of the country.

Last August, the Department of Justice announced its agencies would no longer target recreational or medical weed in states where it’s legal. That policy hasn’t stopped the DEA and other federal law enforcement from launching frequent raids against pot providers, but it does mark a political departure from the failed drug war.

The amendment approved by the House must still pass the Senate, and the president must sign it. The administration’s statements now make that highly unlikely.

Unless both houses of Congress could muster a two-thirds vote to override Obama’s likely veto – a highly improbable scenario, since Democrats control the Senate – the amendment looks dead in the water.

Officials Urged Boycott Over Amendment

That should come as welcome news to residents, voters, and political leaders in Washington. Many viewed the amendment as an attack on District government and a ruse to get more media attention for Harris.

Marijuana CrowdMayor Vincent Gray joined the city’s largest voting-rights group in urging D.C. residents to avoid Harris’s congressional district in Maryland this summer. The district includes the Eastern Shore, a popular tourist spot on the Atlantic.

Eleanor Homes Norton, the District’s congressional delegate and a Democrat, called Harris a “tyrant” for interfering with local policy. Maryland, she pointed out, recently voted to decriminalize weed.

Marijuana proponents said they were pleased by the president’s announcement.

“It is great to see the White House accepting that a majority of Americans want marijuana law reform and defending the right of D.C. and states to set their own marijuana policy,” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “The tide has clearly shifted against the failed war on drugs, and it’s only a matter of time before federal law is changed.”


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