White House to Congress: Marijuana Laws Are States’ Rights Issue

By Paul Gaita 07/16/14

The Obama administration jabbed Republicans in the ideological gut in making a 10th amendment argument for supporting Washington, D.C.'s effort to decriminalize pot.

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Continuing to take baby steps in reforming the nation's failed drug policy, the Obama administration has opposed a Republican-led amendment that would block marijuana decriminalization efforts in Washington, D.C.

A statement issued by the White House on July 14 laid out the President’s response to an amendment to the 2015 Financial Services and General Appropriations Bill by Congressman Andy Harris (R-MD), which would prohibit the District of Columbia from using local funds to lower the penalties for marijuana possession.

The amendment, according to the administration, “undermines the principles of States’ rights and District home rule,” and “poses legal challenges to the Metropolitan Police Department’s enforcement of all marijuana laws currently in force.” In March 2014, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray signed a bill that reduced the penalties for possessing a small amount of marijuana to $25.

Harris, who represents Maryland’s 1st Congressional District, is also a physician and anesthesiologist specializing in obstetrics, and has frequently referenced his medical background as the basis for his opposition to marijuana reform. “I saw firsthand what drug use and drug abuse is doing to an underprivileged population,” he said.

Such comments have drawn the ire of D.C. political figures like Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, who has clashed with Harris on several occasions over congressional interference in district issues. While Norton is opposed to marijuana use, she believes that decriminalization would help reduce the number of African-American men who are arrested for simple possession, which is four times the number of white individuals charged with the same offense.

“An arrest or a conviction for any kind of drug possession can lead a young man in the District of Columbia to the underground economy,” said Norton, who added, “even to selling drugs from where he was only possessing them before, because he can’t find a job because he’s got a ‘record’.”

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.