A campaign to legalize recreational weed in the District of Columbia moved a step forward in early July, as organizers turned in tens of thousands of voter signatures, which are needed to put the question on the ballot in November.
The D.C. Cannabis Campaign, the marijuana advocacy group behind the initiative, turned in 58,000 signatures July 7. Fewer than 24,000 are required to put the question on the ballot, though many will inevitably be disqualified.
The group’s achievement makes it very likely D.C. residents will get a chance to legalize this fall. And most polls suggest they’ll do just that.
The movement to legalize began last year in the District, and has moved forward despite a vote by the District Council to decriminalize cannabis.
That move, which replaced criminal penalties for possession with a $25 civil fine, had overwhelming support of residents, and the legalization petition does too. There’s a very good chance it would pass at the polls.
There are already Republicans in Congress lined up to prevent that from happening. U.S. Rep. Andy Harris of Maryland is pushing a budget amendment that would overturn decriminalization in the District.
The GOP-controlled House voted last month to adopt the amendment. But it still needs approval from the Democratic Senate and President Obama, who are unlikely to thwart the will of voters in an overwhelmingly Democratic city.
Still, Harris’s efforts have put a scare into marijuana reformers, who fear reforms could be blocked for purely political reasons. Mayor Vincent Gray and the city’s largest voting-right group appealed to D.C. residents to avoid the Eastern Shore of Maryland – Harris’s district – while vacationing this summer.
Initiative 71, as it’s called, would make it legal for adults over 21 to possess up to two ounces of weed and grow up to six plants at home. Under District laws, the proposal can’t legalize the sale of the drug, but the District Council may vote to do that.
Support for legalization is strong in the District. Polls routinely show more than 60 percent of voters want to see it happen.
One of the main reasons for that support is the disparate treatment of black tokers by police. Black marijuana users are arrested at more than nine times the rate of white users, even though the District is majority black, and African Americans use weed at the same rate as whites.
D.C. also ranks as the U.S. city with the most per-capita cannabis busts. Marijuana proponents hope to change that, but every victory they win is threatened by the power of Congress to overturn District policy.
Lawmakers have a 60-day window within which to nullify D.C. law. The amendment approved by the House was attached to a budget bill. If that bill passes the Senate with the amendment intact, and Obama signs it, the will of the people of Washington will be thwarted.