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Hill Review Will Delay D.C. Marijuana Decriminalization Until Summer

The D.C. Council has passed a bill decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana and Mayor Vincent Gray has said he will sign it, but it'll still be some time before the measure actually takes effect.

Like any other law passed by the Council, Congress will have a chance to review — and potentially reject — the bill. While most bills get a 30-day congressional review, changes to the city's criminal code increase the review to 60 days.

According to the office of D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, those 60 days only count if either the House or Senate are in session, effectively stretching the review period into the late summer. If the bill were to be transmitted to Congress next week, the earliest it could become law would be June, says the D.C. Council's general counsel.

That date could be pushed depending on when Gray signs the bill and when it is formally transmitted to Congress.

In January, Norton introduced a bill scrapping the congressional review of D.C. bills, which was written into the city's Home Rule Charter when it was passed four decades ago.

"The congressional review process for D.C. bills provides no benefit to Congress, but imposes substantial costs (in time and money) on the District," she said.

President Obama included language that would eliminate the review period in his 2015 budget, but it remains uncertain whether it will make it through the Republican-dominated House.

Only three D.C. bills have ever been disapproved by the House, but in comments to the Associated Press, Speaker of the House John Boehner offered no hint as to whether Republicans would act to block marijuana decriminalization in D.C.

"I really haven't seen what the D.C. Council did, but I'm sure we'll look at it," he said.

In the meantime, pro-marijuana activists are pressing Gray for a moratorium on arrests while Congress reviews the bill.

“Mayor Gray should issue a moratorium on arrests for the possession of marijuana while the legislation is under congressional review. How many more D.C. residents need to be arrested while we wait for Congress?” said Adam Eidinger, who is separately pushing a ballot initiative that would legalize marijuana.

Note: An original version of this story said that the congressional review could stretch into September, but a new legal analysis of the wording of the Home Rule Charter puts the likely date of implementation in June, though that could be pushed into July depending on when Congress gets the bill.

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