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Maryland Republican Moves To Block D.C. Marijuana Decriminalization

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The new law would reduce the penalty for marijuna possession from 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine to just a $25 fine.
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The new law would reduce the penalty for marijuna possession from 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine to just a $25 fine.

A new D.C. law lowering marijuana penalties could be derailed by Republicans in Congress. In a 28-21 vote, the House Appropriations Committee voted to deny D.C. funding to implement a popular marijuana decriminalization law.

Democratic Mayor Vincent Gray signed a bill in March that decriminalizes possession of small amounts of marijuana in the District of Columbia. The bill is set to take effect next month, but the amendment would prevent the District from implementing the law by barring the city from spending any local tax dollars on it.

The sponsor of the amendment is Maryland Republican Congressman Andrew Harris, a medical doctor who prescribes pain medicine. Citing the health effects of marijuana on the developing brain and its potential as a gateway drug, Harris says D.C. law fining a child $25 for possession without referral for treatment isn't enough.

Virginia Democratic Congressman Jim Moran says Harris is enforcing a double standard taking on marijuana activists, saying "he's not willing to take on the alcohol lobby nor his constituents, who would not let him get away with that."

Harris says Moran just doesn't know his record: "He must be unaware of my record in the Maryland legislature where I got numerous awards from Mothers Against Drunk Driving for helping minimize the effect of alcohol on young lives."

In leading the congressional fight against city hall, Congressman Harris knows he’s up against popular opinion.

“There is not a question whether we have the authority. It’s a question of whether it’s the right thing to do. And to suggest that I’m going to be politically more popular because I want to — I want to stop decriminalization — even Delegate Norton’s press release this morning suggests otherwise," Harris says.

To overcome D.C. marijuana home rule, this amendment will have to overcome the hurdles of full House and Senate votes, and then a presidential signature.

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