House GOP Blocks Funding for Marijuana Decriminalization in D.C.

June 26, 2014

House Republicans on Wednesday blocked funding for a new D.C. law that would eliminate the threat of jail time for pot possession, leaving the fate of one of the country’s most liberal decriminalization efforts unclear.

The D.C. law, which is to take effect next month, makes possession in the nation’s capital punishable by a fine of just $25.

A spokesman for Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) said the city would proceed with implementing the law even as its authority to mete out the smaller penalties beyond October remains up in the air.

Gray’s office also warned that as the House Republican amendment was drafted, the city needs to determine if the action could force the city to shut down its entire medical marijuana program, which started last year. Marijuana advocates, meanwhile, were pushing a theory that the House Republicans’ actions could leave the city with no enforceable marijuana law, effectively legalizing possession. The D.C. Attorney General’s Office said it was reviewing that possibility and other potential fallout from the House’s vote.

The interference from House Republicans, however, was broadly seen as another defeat for home rule in the District — and the ability of its Democratic mayor and left-leaning council to self-govern. In March, the council voted overwhelmingly to eliminate jail time for possession, calling it necessary to combat deep racial disparities in drug arrests in the city. Studies have shown that use among teenagers varies little by race but that African Americans account for nine of 10 possession arrests in the nation’s capital, contributing to an estimated 10 percent of residents who have criminal records and trouble finding jobs.

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