Rep. John Fleming, R-La., a physician and outspoken opponent of liberalizing marijuana laws, intends to introduce a House resolution to block the District from decriminalizing possession of small amounts of pot.
"Any place that I can have a say — whether it's nationally, whether it's individual states, or even in the District of Columbia — I'm going to speak out about the dangers of marijuana," Fleming told CQ Roll Call during the recess of a House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee meeting convened to examine the impact of the local law.
Although 18 states have already voted to loosen criminal penalties for the drug, Fleming believes Congress should intervene to stop Washington from doing so because the Constitution gives members the unique power to do that.
"This is the only place I have a say," Fleming said, when asked why he wants to block the bill that has been passed by the D.C. Council and signed by Mayor Vincent Gray. "For me it's all about the health and future of our population, addiction rates," Fleming said. He disputes marijuana's medicinal value and has blamed consumption for a spike in heart disease. Fleming is also concerned about pot's potential to be a gateway drug. "By decriminalizing, we're really moving towards cultural acceptance of yet another dangerous, addicting substance," he said.
Fleming said that as more states and localities vote to decriminalize or legalize marijuana, the nation will see higher addiction rates, more brain disorders and more psychiatric disease.
"Why?" he asks. "Why do we want to go down that pathway?"
The congressman claims some of his colleagues, even those with libertarian views, are starting to come around on the issue. "Several have come up to me to talk about it," he said, naming Jim Bridenstine, R-Okla.
Though Fleming thinks the D.C. bill has so far flown under the radar, he is optimistic that more members will join him when he introduces the bill. He also intends to approach GOP leadership to talk about the issue.
A spokesman for Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, said the leader had not yet taken a position.
Under the Home Rule Act, legislation that changes D.C.’s criminal code is required to undergo a 60-day congressional review period. To stop the bill from becoming law, Fleming would need support from majorities in both the House and the Senate and secure the president’s signature in that time frame.
President Barack Obama's support appears unlikely, since a Justice Department witness at the hearing indicated the administration intends to allow the District's law to stand.
"The administration will treat D.C. in the same manner as every other jurisdiction with respect to the enforcement of federal marijuana laws," said David O’Neil, acting assistant attorney general for the Criminal Division of the Justice Department.