Looks Like Weed Legalization Will Be on the Ballot in DC

The initiative would legalize possession of up to two ounces of marijuana outside the home, allow Dork City residents to grow up to three plants in their homes, and restrict use to residents 21 and over.

Aug 6 2014, 9:51pm

The sort of beautiful marijuana plants Washington, DC, residents will be able to cultivate in their homes if Initiative 71 passes in November. Photo via Motherboard

Forbes just put out a list of the coolest cities in the US, and against all odds, DC won the top spot. The honor may be more deserved come November, when residents of the District will decide whether to join Colorado and Washington in legalizing marijuana.

The DC Board of Elections certified a ballot initiative Tuesday by the DC Cannabis Campaign to legalize marijuana for personal use. Ballot Initiative 71 would legalize possession of up to two ounces of marijuana outside the home, allow DC residents to grow up to three plants in their homes, and restrict use to residents 21 and over.

The campaign submitted roughly 56,000 petition signatures to get the initiative on the ballot, more than twice the threshold number of 22,000. Organizers were expecting a challenge from the board of elections, and there was palpable relief in the room when the board announced about 27,000 of those signatures had been deemed valid.

Now that the initiative is officially on the ballot, the biggest hurdle for the campaign may be over. A Washington Post poll earlier this year found that 63 percent of District residents supported legalization, compared with 34 percent who were opposed.

However, standing outside the Board of Election meeting shortly after the vote, DC Cannabis Campaign chairman Adam Eidenger said victory was anything but certain.

“I really hope today will wake up big donors,” Eidenger said. “If we don’t raise money for a war chest, there’s a good chance we could lose this one.”

So far, the DC Cannabis Campaign has been joined by the national Drug Policy Alliance, but Eidenger wants other large organizations to chip in.

“I believe this is the Waterloo for the war on marijuana,” Eidenger said. “Why would you not want to be in the last great battle?”

Legalizing marijuana in the federal government’s backyard would not only be a significant symbolic victory for advocates, but also a loud statement from District residents who have been disproportionately targeted by the war on drugs.

An ACLU report found that, between 2001 and 2010, 91 percent of those arrested for marijuana possession in the District of Columbia were black.

“It is clear from the number of signatures the campaign was able to submit that the citizens of the District would like to have a say in reforming the marijuana laws of the District,” said Malik Burnett, the DC policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance. “The policies of prohibition have been borne on the backs of black and brown men for decades, and residents can put an end to this failed policy.”

Even since DC decriminalized small amounts of marijuana in mid-July, Burnett said police have mostly issued tickets for possession in Wards 7 and 8, the poorest and blackest wards in the District.

The initiative does not address sales of marijuana. The legalization campaign sees the initiative as the first step in a two-part plan, the second part being a tax-and-regulate bill introduced by DC council member David Grosso.

Congress could still try to throw a wrench in legalization efforts. Representative Andy Harris (R-MD), who tried to block funding for DC’s weed decriminalization efforts, told Roll Call he would also work to block legalization if the initiative passes.

But busybody congressmen would face stiff resistance from both the White House, which threatened to veto the House bill with Harris’ amendment, and the DC city government. Both of the council members leading the DC mayoral race—Democrat Muriel Bowser and independent David Catania—have signaled support for legalization.

“In private conversations, there are some council members on our team,” Burnett said. Organizers said they are planning an education and get out the vote effort for September and October.

DC will be the third state (or pseudo-state in this case), along with Oregon and Alaska, to consider marijuana legalization in the 2014 election cycle. Florida voters will also decide on a measure to legalize medical marijuana.

Follow CJ Ciaramella on Twitter.

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