Norton to Put Alternative View of D.C. Marijuana Legalization Riders in Omnibus on Congressional Record, Today in Rules Committee

Dec 10, 2014
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Upon release of the fiscal year 2015 omnibus spending bill, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) today will testify at a House Rules Committee hearing, today at 3:00 p.m. in support of her amendment to strike the anti-home-rule marijuana and abortion riders from the omnibus and to put on the congressional record the alternative view of the marijuana legalization provision’s effect.

Norton said that, contrary to press reports, it is far from certain that the omnibus bill blocks the District of Columbia from legalizing marijuana.  In a release early today, Norton said, “Based on a plain reading of the bill and principles of statutory interpretation, the District may be able to carry out its marijuana legalization initiative.” 

Initiative 71, the city’s voter-passed law to legalize small amounts of marijuana, was passed only after independent studies showed that 90 percent of those who are arrested for marijuana are Black, although Blacks and Whites use marijuana at the same rate and Blacks comprise 52 percent of D.C.’s population.

Norton’s remarks as prepared for delivery follow:


Testimony of Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton

Hearing on H.R. 83, Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2015

House Rules Committee

December 10, 2014


Chairman Sessions, Ranking Member Slaughter, Members of the Committee, I urge the majority to live up to its professed support for the principles of federalism, limited government, and local control of local affairs by not interfering in the local laws of the District of Columbia.  I have filed two amendments to the bill--one to strike the provision limiting the District’s authority over its local marijuana laws, and one to strike the provision prohibiting D.C. from spending its local funds on abortion services for low-income women.

I am here first and foremost to put on the record that the Republican-led House Appropriations Committee’s stated view that the bill’s D.C. marijuana rider blocks the D.C. marijuana legalization initiative from taking effect is not the view of the entire House, as well as to preserve the ability of the District and its lawyers to review, analyze and interpret the rider’s effect for themselves, in the event my amendment to strike the rider is not accepted by the committee.  You should adopt my amendment because the rider indisputably restricts D.C.’s authority over its local marijuana policies, but you should also adopt it to remove any questions about the city’s authority over its local marijuana laws.

Based on a plain reading of the bill and principles of statutory interpretation, it is arguable that the rider does not block D.C. from carrying out its marijuana legalization initiative.  The House-passed D.C. marijuana rider, introduced by Representative Andy Harris, and the omnibus D.C. marijuana rider are not identical.  Unlike the Harris rider, the omnibus rider does not block D.C. from “carrying out” enacted marijuana policies.  D.C.’s Initiative 71, it can be argued, was enacted when it was approved overwhelmingly by voters in November and was self-executing--i.e., it did not require enactment of any rules for its implementation.  Therefore, it can be argued that the legalization of small amounts of marijuana can proceed.

The District of Columbia legalized marijuana primarily to combat racial injustice, after two independent studies, one by the American Civil Liberties Union of the Nation's Capital and the other by the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, found shocking racial disparities in the enforcement of marijuana laws in D.C.  Whites and Blacks in D.C. use marijuana at the same rates, and Blacks compromise slightly less than 50% of the population, but Blacks in D.C. are eight times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than non-Blacks, and 91% of all marijuana arrests are of Blacks.  These disparities exist in urban areas throughout the country.

Arrests and convictions for marijuana possession ruin lives, especially those of Black males.  An arrest or conviction for marijuana possession often condemns Blacks, particularly those from low-income neighborhoods, to joblessness.  Losing the ability to find legitimate work can lead a person to the underground economy, even to selling drugs, rather than mere possession.  The Black community itself pays the price because men without the prospect of employment often do not form stable families. 

There may be some misconceptions about the District’s legalization law. The District has the narrowest and strictest marijuana legalization law in the country.  D.C. will not become a regional or national haven for marijuana use or transactions.   Unlike D.C., the four states that have legalized marijuana permit the sale and purchase of marijuana.  Under D.C.’s marijuana legalization law, possession and home cultivation are permitted, but all the following are not permitted: sales or purchase, retail stores, smoking in public, and possession by those under 21 years of age.

The bill also blocks the District from spending its local funds to provide abortion services for low-income women.  We are talking about 100% local D.C. funds, not federal funds.  D.C. raises almost $7 billion per year in local funds through taxes and fees.  As with marijuana, the District is being singled out for unfair treatment.  Seventeen states, including Arizona, Alaska, and West Virginia, spend their local funds on abortion services for low-income women.  This bill does not block them from doing so.  When the D.C. abortion rider was re-imposed in April 2011, many low-income D.C. women had to immediately cancel their scheduled reproductive health care services because, unlike wealthier D.C. women, they relied on D.C. to pay for their health care services.

I urge you to adopt my amendments and to respect the local laws of the 650,000 American citizens who live in the District of Columbia.