Norton and Allies to Continue Fight After Passage of Harris Amendment Blocking D.C.’s Marijuana Decriminalization Bill

Jun 25, 2014
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC – Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) vowed to continue the fight to protect D.C.’s home rule after the House Appropriations Committee approved an amendment, sponsored by Representative Andy Harris (R-MD), to the fiscal year 2015 District of Columbia Appropriations bill that blocks the District from decriminalizing marijuana. “The vote by the Republican-led committee violated the central tenants of the Republican Party – limiting the power of the federal government and devolving that power to local governments,” Norton said.  “Representative Harris, a Tea Party supporter, threw his local control principles to the wind.  With this vote, Republicans would expand the power of the federal government by overturning a local policy.  Representative Harris, whose state recently decriminalized marijuana, appears to be following in the most exploitive tradition of some Republicans who try to use D.C. to establish their conservative bona fides and raise their national profiles by interfering in the District’s local affairs.”  The press has widely reported that Harris is considering entering the race to chair the Republican Study Committee, the leading conservative congressional caucus, which was most recently chaired by Majority Whip-elect Steve Scalise (R-LA).  

The bill also continues to prohibit the District from spending its local funds on abortions for low-income women. “The D.C. Home Rule Coalition, which consists of 41 national and local advocacy organizations, and I are prepared to fight to protect D.C.’s right to govern its own local affairs,” Norton said.  “The coalition represents millions of Americans who agree with the city’s abortion and marijuana policies.  Even Americans who disagree with D.C.’s policies on these matters nevertheless support the federalist principle of local control of local affairs, especially of local funds.”

As the bill moves to the floor, Norton is hopeful that the House follows its recent precedent on marijuana.  Last month, the House voted to block the federal government from prosecuting users and sellers of medical marijuana in states that permit it.  The city’s local officials passed the marijuana decriminalization legislation largely to combat racial injustice.  A 2013 study by the American Civil Liberties Union of the Nation’s Capital found that, in the District of Columbia, where about half the residents are Black, African Americans are eight times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than non-Blacks, and in 2010, 91% of all marijuana arrests in D.C. were of African Americans.

Twenty-three states have legalized medical marijuana, 18 states have decriminalized marijuana, and two states have legalized marijuana.  A February 2014 Pew Research Center poll found that 54% of Americans support marijuana legalization.

D.C.’s marijuana decriminalization bill is undergoing a 60-day congressional review period and is expected to take effect in mid-July.  As expected, Republicans are using a rider rather than the disapproval process set forth in the Home Rule Act to try to block D.C.’s marijuana decriminalization bill.  For more than 10 years, Republicans used a rider to block the District from legalizing medical marijuana.  Norton was able to remove that rider in 2009.