Cross posted at mLaw

Portrait f Andy Harris

Andy Harris hates cannabis so much he may legalize it by accident.

A republican end-around to derail cannabis decriminalization in Washington DC seems to have backfired. A neo-prohibitionist lawmaker who sponsored a bill to remove funds from DC that it might have spent to carry out the decriminalization effort inadvertently created a situation where cannabis could be technically legal in our nation’s capital.

The DC decriminalization measure established that police can only give $25 dollar tickets (i.e. as opposed to arrest records) to people caught possessing small amounts of cannabis in the city. The measure to decriminalize cannabis possession was enacted by the city council because treating cannabis possession as a crime in DC resulted in the arrests of great numbers of minorities and very few white people. 9 out of 10 cannabis possession arrestees in DC were African Americans – a significant statistic due to the fact that the percentage of cannabis use across all races is similar.

The move to stymie decriminalization was made by Andy Harris, a Republican representative from Maryland, who appended a rider to a broad financial services bill that prevents DC from spending money “to enact or carry out any law, rule, or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce penalties associated with possession, use or distribution” of cannabis.

The prohibitionist law maker, however, failed to replace the decriminalization rule creating a circumstance where police could not ticket cannabis possessors, as this would violate the prohibition of spending monies to “carry out” the decriminalization rule, and DC could not act to re-criminalize cannabis, as doing so would also violate the provisions of the law.

The situation may lead to, as Dr. Malik Burnett the Policy Manager for the Drug Policy Alliance described it to the DCist news organization, the “de facto legalization” of cannabis possession in the district.

Although the legal catch-22 will certainly be spoken to by Congress with future legislation, as it stands today (technically) the citizens of the District of Columbia may be able to thank Rep. Andy Harris for ensuring that they can’t be profiled or arrested for holding on the hill.

Public domain photo via Wikimedia Commons.