marijuana decriminalization

Senate Not Likely to Harsh D.C. Marijuana Decriminalization

House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Government Operations Chairman John Mica holds a fake hand-rolled cigarette and a list of marijuana offenses during a hearing about drug laws. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The District of Columbia's legislation to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana appears unlikely to face harsh scrutiny in the Senate, where both Republicans and Democrats indicate they are inclined to defer to local officials.  

"I kind of think maybe the District should make the decision themselves," said Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the second-ranking Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. "I may not agree with it, but they have an elected mayor and city council."  

The Chronic Countdown: D.C. Marijuana Decriminalization Could Be Final by Mid-July

(Bill Clark/Roll Call File Photo)

Unless Congress steps in, possession of pot in the nation's capital will become a civil offense this summer, with penalties similar to a parking ticket.  

Exact timing depends on when each chamber chooses to adjourn for breaks, but the marijuana decriminalization bill's layover on Capitol Hill will likely end in mid- to late-July. After that, getting busted with one ounce or less of the drug would result in a fine of $25. The criminal offense currently carries up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.  

Congress May Overturn D.C. Marijuana Decriminalization, Norton Warns

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The District's effort to decriminalize marijuana may be facing its first challenge from Congress.  

In May, a House Oversight and Government Reform panel will convene for a hearing focused on the local legislation, according to Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C. In a statement, she called it "inappropriate" to hold a hearing on the local marijuana laws of only one jurisdiction "when 18 states have decriminalized marijuana, 21 states have legalized medical marijuana and two states have legalized marijuana."  

Eric Holder in the Hot Seat on Pot, Fired Up to Defend DOJ Enforcement (Video)

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

As states and cities move to liberalize marijuana laws, the administration looks at changes to federal policy and the No. 2 House Democrat reverses course on decriminalization, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. found himself in a charged congressional hearing on Tuesday.  

Pressed by members from both sides of the aisle to defend Justice Department practices in states that have legalized marijuana for recreational purposes, Holder insisted the Obama administration has not "retreated."  

Could Pot Become Legal in Nation's Capital?

A 2011 pro-marijuana legalization rally near the White House. (Bill Clark/Roll Call File Photo)

When D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray signed a bill  to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana in the District, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton immediately jumped in to say she would defend the effort in Congress.  

Congress could overturn the measure with a bill of its own. But with a shift in public opinion and recent pot policy changes nationally, some are predicting the nation's lawmakers will ignore the change in their own backyard.  

Gray Signs D.C.'s Marijuana Decriminalization Bill, Norton Vows to Defend it

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Mayor Vincent Gray quietly signed Washington, D.C.'s marijuana decriminalization measure on Monday, sending one of the nation's most potent pot bills to Congress for review.  

Gray received the measure, sponsored by mayoral candidate and Ward 6 D.C. Councilmember Tommy Wells, last week and signed the bill with little fanfare one day before the April 1 Democratic primary in which the two will face off.