After 70 percent of District of Columbia residents passed a semi-legal marijuana bill, allowing individuals to possess up to two ounces and cultivate a small number of plants in a private home, Maryland Congressman Andy Harris said, “I will consider using all resources available…to stop [DC’s marijuana initiative].”
Harris made good on his word—by helping to include in the $1.1 trillion Congressional spending bill that neither federal nor local funds be used “to enact any law, rule or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce penalties associated with the possession, use or distribution” of marijuana in DC. The spending bill was just approved by Congress last week.
According to the Washington Post, analyzing an ACLU report on marijuana arrests, “the District had higher pot possession arrest rates and greater racial disparity among those arrested than almost any other state or county in the country.” Throughout the country, billions of dollars have been wasted on racially-biased arrests, despite the fact that whites and blacks use marijuana nearly equally. With a city made up of 50 percent African Americans, according to the 2012 census, decriminalization was a priority for many who aimed to redirect police resources toward far more important causes.
Despite DC’s home rule, Congress at any time can pass legislation without the people’s approval. It’s a great opportunity for elected conservatives from other states to pander to their base and pass bills against abortion or gun control, especially when they can’t get them passed in their own state. And this spending bill is likely to be passed, thanks to a House and Senate controlled by Republicans, who have made it part of their party platform to oppose DC statehood.
But not all Republicans agree with Harris. According to Politico, “The situation leaves Republicans in an awkward position—not only contradicting their long-standing philosophical views that the federal government shouldn’t meddle in local affairs but also out of step with a clear majority of voters who back more liberal marijuana laws.” Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky appears to be one of the few Republicans willing to stand up for DC; speaking to Roll Call, Paul said, “I haven’t really taken a stand on [marijuana legalization], but I’m against the federal government telling them they can’t.” Finally, a Republican that actually follows the party’s ideal of personal freedom and state’s rights!
As a resident living and working in the District, I am outraged. It’s not just about the freedom to enjoy marijuana anymore, though I’ll admit, just as President Obama did, “Yes, I inhaled. That was the point.” This is about the unequal treatment and lack of representation for over 646,000 Americans—which, by the way, is more than the populations of the states of Wyoming and Vermont, respectively—who live and work in the District. For Congress members to declare legislation over an area that is not in their own jurisdiction is tyranny.
Rep. Harris and others who agree with him need to leave DC alone. We can, and should have the right to, manage our own affairs. What ever happened to “We, the people”?