That’s the measure of this country’s commitment to democratic self-government. The duly elected officials of Washington DC have been moving ahead with plans to decriminalize possession of marijuana, reducing the current penalties from $1,000 and a one-year jail-sentence to a $25 civil fine and a 60-day jail sentence for public smoking. The latest public opinion polls put support for outright legalization in the District at 63 percent:
Washingtonians of every age, race and ethnicity — teenagers and seniors, blacks and whites — registered double-digit increases in support of legalization. Even among those who oppose legalization, nearly half support relaxing punishment for marijuana possession to a fine of $100 or less.
So you have close to unanimity of the city’s residents and voters behind the current proposal. But in America – unlike any other democratic country on the planet – the voters in Washington DC can simply be over-ruled by a handful of congressmen from other parts of the country on the House Appropriations Committee. And so this condescending douchebag from Maryland gets to preach to Washingtonians as if we were incapable of running our own lives:
“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,” Representative Andy Harris, the Maryland Republican who proposed the provision, said in a statement.
It’s all for the children! But wait! The House Committee can only remove funding for implementing any such change in the law; it cannot actually change the law. And the only parts of the new law that require funding for enforcement are – yep! -the penalties:
Eliminating the previous criminal penalties … costs nothing. So by preventing funding for DC’s decriminalization law, House Republicans could end enforcement for the few penalties that remain. That would leave DC with decriminalization but no ability to enforce civil fines or jail time — something that looks very similar to outright legalization.
Somehow I doubt that an act of brazen contempt for democracy will lead to a triumph of democracy. The full House will have to vote on this at some point. But, in the last days of Prohibition, you never know.
Update from a reader on Twitter:
@sullydish & don’t forget, they also ban DC from doing needlexchange, which spreads HIV & has caused 1000s of deaths
— Maia Szalavitz (@maiasz) June 26, 2014