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Obama Administration – Marijuana Reform Is States’ Rights Issue


obama medical marijuana enforcementThe Obama Administration has pushed back hard against Congress’s attempt to gut the recently-passed marijuana decriminalization law in Washington, DC.  The Office of Management and Budget memo explains that Congressional meddling “undermines the principles of States’ rights and District home rule”

Lawmakers in the District passed the law that treats possession of an ounce of marijuana as a non-arrestable civil infraction with a nation’s-lowest fine of just $25.  Congress has final say over all laws passed in the District, but let the deadline pass for the decrim law without comment, which takes effect on Thursday.

However, Rep. Andy Harris, a Republican from Maryland, attached an amendment to an appropriations bill that would prevent the District from using any of its local funds to implement marijuana law reforms.  Its primary intent seems to be the blocking of the decriminalization law, with a secondary goal of forestalling an attempt this November to legalize marijuana outright through an initiative petition recently submitted by activists.  Coincidentally, Rep. Harris’ home state of Maryland recently decriminalized the possession of ten grams of marijuana.

“[T]he Administration strongly opposes the language in the bill preventing the District from using its own local funds to carry out locally-passed marijuana policies,” the administration admonishes in its Statement of Administration Policy on H.R. 5016, “which again undermines the principles of States’ rights and of District home rule. Furthermore, the language poses legal challenges to the Metropolitan Police Department’s enforcement of all marijuana laws currently in force in the District.”

That last part refers to the unintended consequence of Rep. Harris’ ham-fisted attempt to stop decriminalization from happening.  His amendment would bar the District from spending money on marijuana reforms, but not arresting people doesn’t cost a dime.  It is conceivable that Rep. Harris’ amendment would mean District Police couldn’t write the $25 ticket for pot possession and the courts couldn’t process the tickets even if they were written, since all of those activities cost salaries and printing costs.

Another indication of how far marijuana reform has come in some Washington DC circles is that the memo chastises Harris’ amendment for restricting the District from using local funds for abortion services for the same “States’ rights” reasoning as marijuana reform.  In five years, we’ve gone from President Obama chuckling that “I don’t know what that says about the online audience” when they rate marijuana legalization as a top priority in online polls to the president giving it the same political gravitas as the abortion rights issue.

Source: International Cannabis Business Conference


About Author

Executive Director: Russ Belville has been active in Oregon marijuana reform since 2005, when he was elected second-in-command of the state affiliate, Oregon NORML. After four years with Oregon NORML, Russ was hired by National NORML in 2009, working as Outreach Coordinator and hosting the NORML Daily Audio Stash podcast until 2012. Since then, Russ launched the 420RADIO marijuana legalization network and is the host of The Russ Belville Show, a live daily marijuana news talk radio program. Russ is also a prolific writer, with over 300 articles posted online and in print in HIGH TIMES, Huffington Post, Alternet, The Weed Blog, Marijuana Politics, and more.


  1. Perhaps this could be Obama’s legacy? A real revolution and change in medicine? The money could help finance Obamacare and bring down the cost of healthcare as well. It would be nice to have the free market competition in the cannabis industry that the rebloodicans bleed their gums about.

  2. It’s up to congress to permanently change the law, not the President. As has been amply demonstrated, no amount of leadership will cause most members of congress to do anything that might risk their ability to be re-elected. And don’t forget: Ronald Reagan was a “true leader” but that didn’t prevent him from being wrong about a lot of things, including the war on drugs.

  3. I think Obama should step up and be a true leader. A true leader gives the people what they want and need. WEED THE PEOPLE!

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