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At the beginning of this morning’s congressional subcommittee hearing on D.C.’s recently passed legislation to decriminalize possession of small amounts of pot, Rep. John Mica made one thing clear: He doesn’t have much experience rolling joints.
Prompting the explanation was the fact that the Florida Republican was actually holding a joint—-a mock doobie he had a member of his staff make. “I had staff do it,” he quipped. “They have more experience.”
Mica called the hearing of the subcommittee on government operations, which he chairs, to examine the conflicts between federal law and D.C.’s marijuana decriminalization legislation that Mayor Vince Gray signed in March. The bill is now subject to congressional review before it can become law and would reduce the penalty for possession of an ounce or less of pot to a $25 fine.
While the questionable prop and easy pot jokes drew a few laughs, they did little to win over Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, who was outspokenly pissed that the hearing was even occurring.
In his opening statement, Mica made it clear that D.C. is not a state but a federal district, a characterization that Norton called “quaint,” considering that the District has more than 630,000 residents.
At the end of the hearing Mica said that no decision had been made on whether to introduce a House of Representatives resolution contesting the D.C. bill. But Louisiana Republican Rep. John Fleming, a doctor who spoke about the dangers of marijuana at the hearing, told Roll Call that he would introduce such a resolution.
“This is the only place I have a say,” Fleming said.
Even if a resolution passes the Republican-controlled House, the Senate and president would still have to approve it. Congress has only blocked three D.C. laws since 1979.
One takeaway from today’s hearing: Even if the bill is enacted, D.C. residents will need to be careful where they transport their personal dime bags. About 22 percent of the city is federal land, and Robert MacLean, the acting chief of U.S. Park Police, said his agency would continue to enforce the federal law on federal property. (The D.C. law would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, although smoking pot in public would still be a crime. Under federal law, possession is a crime.) Metropolitan Assistant Police Chief Peter Newsham agreed that the D.C. law wouldn’t apply to federal land. “It is in fact unclear as to how the D.C. decriminalization will affect marijuana possession and use on federal land,” Mica said.
Norton, who both testified and sat on the dais, said this wouldn’t be a problem, pointing to Alaska, a state that has decriminalized marijuana and has a large amount of federal land.
Still, if someone is arrested for possessing pot on, say, the National Mall, it is still unclear how he or she would move through the court system. The Department of Justice’s David O’Neil said that when it came to busting someone with small amounts of marijuana, it would likely defer to local officials. (As the Washington Post noted, the DOJ says federal law enforcement efforts should focus on eight specific priorities, which do not include prosecuting individuals who possess small amounts of marijuana for their own use.)
Neither Mayor Vince Gray nor any members of the D.C. Council attended the hearing.
Screenshot from C-SPAN