Marijuana: States' rights get boost from White House stance on D.C. pot fight

The White House once again reiterated its stance on the right of states such as Colorado to make their own marijuana laws this week, jumping behind a proposal that would decriminalize possession of up to an ounce of marijuana in Washington, D.C. -- a proposal currently under fire from Republicans in Congress.

See also: Marijuana demand to reach 121.4 metric tons and other facts from state pot study

Earlier this year, the D.C. city council voted ten to one to decriminalize possession of up to an ounce of pot and make the infraction punishable by just a $25 fine. Without any formal challenge from Congress -- which has the final say on D.C. governance -- that proposal would become law on Thursday. But Representative Andy Harris, a Republican from Maryland, has attacked it from another front, attaching a rider to a much larger spending bill that would prevent D.C. from using any 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 any" controlled substance, including marijuana.

Basically, there would be no money for D.C. to enforce the law, so the cops and courts wouldn't be able to write or process the infraction tickets. Harris has said he opposes the decriminalization because it would make marijuana easier for kids to get; he also thinks the $25 fine is too low and says the proposal doesn't give people the option to attend drug-treatment programs in lieu of fines.

"As a physician, I have read study after study on the devastating effects of marijuana use, especially on developing brains of teenagers," Harris said in June. "Congress has the authority to stop irresponsible actions by local officials, and I am glad we did for the health and safety of children throughout the District."

But on Monday, the White House stepped into the fray, offering its objections to the amended spending bill and threatening to veto the measure if it makes it past the House. While the defunding of the new D.C. cannabis law wasn't the administration's main objection, it was notable among them. The White House also had a problem with language that would have prevented D.C. tax dollars from going to abortion-services programs in the city.

"The Administration strongly opposes language in the bill that restricts D.C. from using its local funds for abortion services, undermining the principles of States' right and the District home rule," the White House memo read. "Similarly, the Administration strongly opposes the language in the bill preventing the District from using its own local funds to carry out locally passed marijuana policies, which again undermines the principles of States' rights and of District home rule. Furthermore, the language poses legal challenges to the Metropolitan Police Department's enforcement of all marijuana laws currently in force in the District."

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William Breathes
Contact: William Breathes