A poorly worded conservative attempt to prevent the District of Columbia from decriminalizing marijuana could have an unintended consequence — the legalization of marijuana in D.C.
Maryland Republican Representative Andy Harris (pictured above) led the effort to stop a law that would have made possession of marijuana a $25 fine, claiming that it was “bad policy” because it contained no drug-treatment component for minors.
“No referral for help? Not even for a 14- or 15-year-old. That’s just plain bad policy,” Harris told the House Appropriations Committee. “This is an opportunity to stop bad policy from moving forward.”
Harris sponsored a rider on a House financial services bill that would prevent the District from spending money “to enact or carry out any law, rule, or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce penalties associated with the possession, use, or distribution” of marijuana.
By blocking the recently enacted law without replacing it with a new one, Harris’ rider effectively leaves the District with no operative law concerning the possession of small amounts of marijuana.
Malik Burnett, Policy Manager for the Drug Policy Alliance, told DCist that “this amendment — the way it’s written — would not re-criminalize or rewrite the laws around criminalization of marijuana.”
“Police issuing [$25] tickets to people who they found to have marijuana on their person wouldn’t be able to do so,” Burnett continued, which “would create a sort of de facto legalization.”
Proponents of decriminalization note that marijuana use among teenagers in D.C. doesn’t vary by race, but that nine out of ten people arrested for possession are African American. They also liken efforts like Harris’ to “colonialism.”
Democratic Representative James Moran of Virginia toldThe Washington Post that “it just doesn’t seem right that the Eastern Shore of Maryland can reach over into D.C. and make laws for D.C. It’s not the way this country is supposed to function.”
Scott Eric Kaufman is the proprietor of the AV Club's Internet Film School and, in addition to Raw Story, also writes for Lawyers, Guns & Money. He earned a Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of California, Irvine in 2008.
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