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Eleanor N.
Democrat DC 0

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  • Insular Areas and Freely Associated States Energy Development

    by Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton

    Posted on 2014-12-11

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    NORTON. Mr. Speaker, I urge the majority to live up to its professed support for the principles of federalism, limited government, and local control of local affairs by not interfering in the local laws of the District of Columbia. The bill limits the District's authority over its local marijuana laws, and prohibits D.C. from spending its local funds on abortion services for low-income women.

    I am here to put on the record that the Republican-led House Appropriations Committee's stated view that the bill's D.C. marijuana rider blocks the D.C. marijuana legalization initiative from taking effect is not the view of the entire House, as well as to preserve the ability of the District and its lawyers to review, analyze and interpret the rider's effect for themselves.

    Based on a plain reading of the bill and principles of statutory interpretation, it is arguable that the rider does not block D.C. from carrying out its marijuana legalization initiative. The House-passed D.C. marijuana rider, introduced by Representative Andy Harris, and this bill's D.C. marijuana rider are not identical. Unlike the Harris rider, this bill's rider does not block D.C. from ``carrying out'' enacted marijuana policies. D.C.'s Initiative 71, it can be argued, was enacted when it was approved overwhelmingly by voters in November and is self-executing--i.e., it did not require enactment of any rules for its implementation. Therefore, it can be argued that the legalization of small amounts of marijuana in D.C. can proceed.

    The District legalized marijuana primarily to combat racial injustice, after two independent studies, one by the American Civil Liberties Union of the Nation's Capital and the other by the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, found shocking racial disparities in the enforcement of marijuana laws in D.C. In D.C., Whites and Blacks use marijuana at the same rates, and Blacks compromise slightly less than 50% of the population, but Blacks are eight times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than non-Blacks, and 91% of all marijuana arrests are of Blacks. These disparities exist in urban areas throughout the country.

    Arrests and convictions for marijuana possession ruin lives, especially those of Black males. An arrest or conviction for marijuana possession often condemns Blacks, particularly those from low-income neighborhoods, to joblessness. Losing the ability to find legitimate work can lead a person to the underground economy, even to selling drugs, rather than mere possession. The Black community itself pays the price because men without the prospect of employment often do not form stable families.

    There may be some misconceptions about the District's legalization law. The District has the narrowest and strictest marijuana legalization law in the country. D.C. will not become a regional or national haven for marijuana use or transactions. Unlike D.C., the four states that have legalized marijuana permit the sale and purchase of marijuana. Under D.C.'s marijuana legalization law, possession and home cultivation are permitted, but all the following are not permitted: sales or purchase, retail stores, smoking in public, and possession by those under 21 years of age.

    The bill also blocks the District from spending its local funds to provide abortion services for low-income women. We are talking about [[Page H9286]] 100% local D.C. funds, not federal funds. D.C. raises almost $7 billion per year in local funds through taxes and fees. As with marijuana, the District is being singled out for unfair treatment. Seventeen states, including Arizona, Alaska, and West Virginia, spend their local funds on abortion services for low-income women. The bill does not block them from doing so. When the D.C. abortion rider was re-imposed in April 2011, many low-income D.C. women had to immediately cancel their scheduled appointments for reproductive health services, because, unlike wealthier D.C. women, they relied on D.C. to pay for their health care services.

    I urge Congress to respect the local laws of the 650,000 American citizens who live in the District of Columbia.

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