Cannabis in America

“Mayor Harris” Might Accidentally Legalize Weed in DC

By  | 

UPDATE: July 17, 2014

Congress is on track to accidentally legalize marijuana in the nation’s capital. To understand why, you first have to understand how the District of Columbia governs itself. Or, more accurately, how it doesn’t govern itself.

You see, the Constitution gives Congress jurisdiction over Washington, DC. Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, which lists the enumerated powers of Congress, says that Congress has the power…

“To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the Acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States.”

This has been interpreted to mean that Congress has a great amount of control over what laws DC can or cannot pass. No other city has to get all of its local government decisions approved by the Federal government.

To be clear, DC still has a local government. Thanks to the District of Columbia Home Rule Act passed by Congress in 1973, the city has a mayor, city council, and all of the other things that comprise normal city government. This government, however, does not have any real authority. Congress merely allows this government to exist and operate. At any time, Congress could theoretically disband the DC government and overturn every DC law. Congress still has to approve every law that DC passes and still bans DC from passing laws that affect everything from the city budget to the maximum height of its buildings.

DC government is kind of like the student government at an elementary school. The student body president can promise extra recess and nap time all he wants, but the principal has the final say.

Congress is basically Mr. Feeny from Boy Meets World

So, what does this have to do with weed? Well, the DC city council voted for, and Mayor Vincent Gray signed, a law decriminalizing the possession of marijuana in the District. This law eliminated jail time and court appearances for those caught with marijuana. Instead, smokers would be slapped with a light $25 fine. In any other city, this would be the end of the story. Seventeen states have decriminalized marijuana, including DC’s next-door neighbor Maryland.

Maryland Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) is apparently not excited about sharing this similarity with DC. That might be why he led the charge in the House Appropriations Committee to block funding for the decriminalization law.

Reasonable people can disagree on the merits of decriminalization; however, these same reasonable people should all agree that DC’s lack of self rule is unfair. If the people of Maryland can decide to decriminalize marijuana, so should the people of DC. Harris is deliberately ignoring the will of the people while being a blatant hypocrite. Why should his state be able to have rights that DC does not?

We know, Jack. We know.

However, as the Washington Post has pointed out, this may have backfired. Harris decided to use his power on the Appropriations Committee to block the bill. Since that committee deals with the allotment of funds, instead of just rejecting the bill, he decided to defund it, penning an amendment that states no money can go toward the enforcement of the law.

But what money does DC need to enforce this law? It doesn’t cost the police any money to not arrest somebody for holding marijuana. According to the Washington Post, the money would be used to print and process the $25 fine for possession. If money cannot go toward this enforcement, then fines will not be doled out. If the fines are not being given out, and the law is still on the books, then there are no consequences for possessing marijuana in DC, effectively legalizing the substance.

This somewhat hilarious mistake is just one example of Congress’ tyrannical rule over DC gone awry. Another example took place in 2012, when Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) tried to restrict abortions in DC. As a form of protest, DC residents began to flood his office with other complaints about district problems.

“The protesters came to the office with complaints about potholes, street signs blocked by overgrown trees and other municipal issues. One even came armed with a plunger to represent concerns about sewage overflows into the Anacostia River during floods, concerns they wanted addressed by “Mayor Franks.””

This is a fantastic way to protest a lack of true DC home rule. It annoys the Congressman and eloquently illustrates the absurdity of Congress’ power over DC laws. This leaves me with one question: why aren’t the people of DC doing this again?

DC residents, you know what you have to do. Here is a link to Harris’ “Contact Me’ page. Is there a nasty pothole outside your apartment? Does the corner on your street need a traffic light? Is your trash not being picked up fast enough? Send a message to Mayor Harris. If you’re near Capitol Hill, schedule a meeting. Better yet, just visit unannounced!

I’m sure he would be more than happy to help the residents of the fine city he is so concerned about.

UPDATE: July 17, 2014

This week Congress passed an amendment that would undo DC’s strict gun laws. You know, the gun laws that DC’s elected representatives voted for. Clearly they weren’t listening when I said that they should not steal DC’s government from its people. So I would like to directly address Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY), the amendment’s author:

Hey Thomas! How are you today? I noticed that you have been spending a lot of time worrying about DC and may have forgotten about your own state. So I thought I would present you with some statistics about Kentucky, the state you claim to represent:

  • Kentucky has a 7.7 percent unemployment rate. That’s a lot higher than the country’s 6.3 percent unemployment rate.
  • Kentucky’s poverty rate is 18.6 percent. America as a whole only has a 14.9 percent poverty rate.
  • Kentucy’s median income is nearly $10,000 lower than the national media income.

Your state faces a lot of challenges and needs leaders willing to tackle those problems. I would guess that your constituents care a lot less about whether or not a DC resident can buy a semi-automatic weapon than they do about problems they experience personally. Your constituents didn’t vote for you  so that you would mess with DC. They voted for you to improve their own state.

Take your hands off of DC laws and do your damn job.

Eric Essagof (@ericmessagof) is a student at The George Washington University majoring in Political Science. He writes about how decisions made in DC impact the rest of the country. He is a Twitter addict, hip-hop fan, and intramural sports referee in his spare time. Contact Eric at

Featured image courtesy of [Andrew Bossi via Flickr]

Eric Essagof
Eric Essagof attended The George Washington University majoring in Political Science. He writes about how decisions made in DC impact the rest of the country. He is a Twitter addict, hip-hop fan, and intramural sports referee in his spare time. Contact Eric at



Send this to friend