Lawmaker May Accidentally Make Pot Legal in DC

Maryland congressman's attempt to tighten law could backfire
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 26, 2014 6:58 PM CDT
Lawmaker May Accidentally Make Pot Legal in DC
A medical marijuana plant at a dispensary in Seattle.   (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

A Maryland congressman who meant to take a stand against looser marijuana laws in Washington, DC, might end up making them even looser thanks to the legal fine print in his amendment. The Washington Post lays out the somewhat convoluted scenario surrounding Republican Andy Harris' legislation: To begin with, recall that DC's city council voted earlier this year to make possession of small amounts of pot punishable by only a $25 fine. Harris, who thinks that measure is a bad idea and wants to block it from taking effect, tacked an amendment onto a House spending bill that would forbid DC from spending 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 marijuana.

The problem? DC's law takes effect in July, and Murray's legislation will take much longer than that to wind through the House and Senate. Which means it could take effect after DC's law is on the books. "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," explains Raw Story. As the DCist points out, it's highly unlikely that the Harris amendment would eventually pass the House and Senate, and then escape a presidential veto. But just in case, the DC attorney general's office is looking into the possible ramifications, says the Post. “This potential unintended consequence only underscores why Congress should not meddle in local DC laws,” says a spokesperson for Mayor Vincent Gray. (More Washington, DC stories.)

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