WASHINGTON — If House Republicans have their way, District of Columbia residents won’t be allowed to walk the streets with a joint in their pocket, and they will be allowed to carry a semi-automatic rifle.
The GOP-controlled House approved a spending bill Wednesday that would undo the District’s strict gun-control laws and its law decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana. The fate of the spending bill and the amendments will likely depend on negotiations between the House, Senate and White House.
The gun amendment was introduced by Republican Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky. Twenty Democrats joined 221 Republicans in voting for it, while four GOP lawmakers voted against it.
A 2008 Supreme Court decision struck down the District’s longstanding ban on handgun possession. Residents of the nation’s capital must register handguns every three years, complete a safety course and be fingerprinted and photographed. The Massie amendment would get rid of all those, leaving only federal gun-control laws to govern the District.
“It is time for Congress to step in and stop the D.C. government’s harassment and punishment of law-abiding citizens who simply want to defend themselves,” Massie said in a statement.
Congress has the final say over the District’s local laws and budget.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat who represents the District in Congress but cannot vote on the House floor, called the amendment dangerous and pledged to defeat it.
“Rep. Massie may think D.C. will be one of the most permissive gun jurisdictions in the country — where you can openly carry assault weapons in the street and get a gun with no background check — but he’s wrong,” Norton said in a statement.
The marijuana amendment, introduced in committee last month by Republican Rep. Andy Harris of Maryland, would block the District from spending any money to liberalize its pot laws.
If enacted, the amendment would put the city in a curious legal position, according to the White House and drug policy groups. Mayor Vincent Gray signed a bill in March that decriminalizes possession of less than one ounce of pot, replacing criminal penalties for simple possession with a $25 fine, one of the nation’s lowest.
Because Congress did not pass a resolution disapproving of the local law, it’s set to take effect Thursday, July 17, and D.C. police are preparing to start issuing citations and inform the public about the policy change. Drug policy experts have voiced concern that the amendment’s practical effect would only be to block the District from issuing the $25 fines.
The White House said in a statement that the marijuana amendment undermines states’ rights and “poses legal challenges to the Metropolitan Police Department’s enforcement of all marijuana laws currently in force in the District.”
Harris argued that the decriminalization law was bad policy and would lead more children to smoke marijuana, hurting their brain development. Gray and other city leaders responded by calling for a boycott of Harris’ district, which includes popular vacation spots on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
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