The office of Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) today announced that on May 8, 2014, Norton will testify at a hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee's Subcommittee on Government Operations on legislation passed by the District of Columbia decriminalizing marijuana. Norton is a member of the committee, but not the subcommittee, which is chaired by Representative John Mica (R-FL). The hearing, which could be the first step to overturn D.C.'s local marijuana decriminalization legislation, comes four years after Norton succeeded in her 11-year fight to remove the Republican-led appropriations rider that prohibited the District from legalizing medical marijuana.
"The city's marijuana decriminalization legislation is a responsible, but modest, response to an alarming report showing that African Americans are eight times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites in the District of Columbia. Each jurisdiction in our country must respond to local issues, which, in the case of many marijuana possession arrests, have ruined the lives of countless African Americans across the nation. The hearing on D.C.'s decriminalization legislation is a unique and inappropriate overreach by Congress, targeting the marijuana laws of only one jurisdiction in a hearing before a national legislature. We will insist on our rights as a local jurisdiction to be treated in the same way as the 18 states that have decriminalized marijuana and the two that have legalized marijuana."
While the subcommittee has held two hearings this Congress to examine how the Obama administration will enforce the federal prohibition on marijuana in jurisdictions that have legalized or decriminalized it, local witnesses have not been called. The May 8 hearing, on the other hand, will include local officials and will single out local legislation passed by the District's locally elected officials.
In the last two Congresses, Norton has been denied the right to testify by the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice, contrary to the traditional congressional courtesy permitting Members of Congress to testify. It would have been even more extraordinary and insulting had she been denied the courtesy to testify at the May 8 hearing, considering that she is a senior member of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Norton will join members of the subcommittee in asking questions of witnesses.
D.C.'s decriminalization legislation has been transmitted to Congress and is undergoing a 60-day legislative review period. The legislation will take effect at the end of that period unless Congress and the President disapprove it. Norton and her allies are preparing to defeat any attempt by Congress to block this local law.