Free the DC Weed

If you live in DC you are officially a non-person in the eyes of Congress, since the nation's capital has no senators and only a non-voting delegate in the House of Representatives. With the sole exception of whoever happens to be President, we are, federally speaking, taxed and unrepresented. We do get to pick our local government, which has a well-earned tabloid reputation due to the crack-smoking adventures of third-act political wonder Marion Barry and the current mayor who will almost surely be indicted on corruption charges on his way out of office Bob McDonnell-style, and we do all right running our little swamp considering the disproportionately high population of politicians and lawyers we're dealing with.

While we do not have any full-featured congresscritters of our own, DC residents are not entirely invisible to the House and Senate. Occasionally someone on the Hill acknowledges our existence just long enough to reach down and screw with us.

Along with our lack of United States senators and representatives, we are also short one state legislature here in the District. Home Rule allows the city council to pass laws for the mayor to sign, but Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution says that Congress can take a hatchet to any ordinance or initiative it doesn't like. The preferred method of doing this is de-funding things rather than squashing them outright: until 2008, for example, when Democrats were able to make changes using their control of House committees, DC was explicitly barred from using any funds from its budget to even lobby for a voting representative in Congress. (And STAY DOWN.)

In March 2014, Mayor Vincent Gray signed a law making possession of less than one ounce of marijuana in the District of Columbia punishable only with a $25 citation rather than a misdemeanor with the potential for jail time and much larger fines. The law has been in effect since July 17 and your correspondent can confirm that so far the city has not burned to the ground. While prohibitions on smoking up in public remain unchanged, the new approach was intended to curtail some of the cost of policing the city and address the glaring racial disparity in small-bore marijuana arrests.

Thanks to language successfully inserted into the recently-passed House Financial Services Appropriations bill by Congressman from Maryland's Eastern Shore and Total Buzzkill Andy Harris, M.D., DC could soon be forbidden from using any local or federal funds to implement its new marijuana policy. By shoe-horning it into a must-pass appropriations bill, Republicans can spin future Senate inaction and the White House's veto threat as Democratic obstructionism, which sounds better than admitting that this petty interference in local affairs has little chance of passing on its own, even in the House.

Even before we read his victory-lap press release, we all guessed with uncanny accuracy who Dr. Harris would say he was fighting for: "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."

It might be too late to fish the Andy Harris turd from the HR 5016 punchbowl, but if you live in a real state with elected representatives, 63% of the residents of DC would love it if you would do them a solid and tell your senators to just back off the weed already when they take up their version of the bill. The city has maxed out its influence now that the council has passed the law, the mayor has signed it, and our non-voting congressional delegate has registered her eloquent but powerless opinion that Dr. Harris's constituents do not have a compelling interest in DC law enforcement.

Those of us who live here cannot squawk too loudly, lest we bring down something far worse on the little pocket of representative democracy that we've carved out for ourselves. The mayor and city council serve at the pleasure of Congress, and there's absolutely nothing in the Constitution stopping them from demolishing the local government down to the foundation and putting every function of the District of Columbia under the control of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. While we do not enjoy being legislated at by this Andy Harris of Maryland, it cannot be worse than having Darrell Issa in charge.


You can follow Beth on Twitter for the latest DC Statehood propaganda.


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