D.C. voters to decide on marijuana legalization within the District

October 30, 2014

On Nov. 4, District voters will determine whether the D.C. Council can move forward with Initiative 71, an act to legalize recreational use of marijuana within D.C.

Initiative 71, the Legalization of Home Cultivation and Possession of Minimal Amounts of Marijuana for Personal Use Act of 2014, would legalize possession of up to 2 ounces of marijuana, cultivation of up to six marijuana plants, and the transfer of 1 ounce for citizens 21 and older. If passed by voters, the act will be brought to Congress for approval.

Adam Eidinger, chairman of the D.C. Cannabis Campaign, argues that while the District’s decriminalization of the drug in July was an important first step, legalization is the most effective way to rid the city of a racial disparity in drug arrest statistics, prevent wrongful incrimination, and move the city forward with regulatory legislation.

“There will be no more tickets, no more taking of peoples’ property, which is what the current decriminalization does, and we can start to [begin discussion on]…a bill [to regulate it],” said Eidinger. “The D.C. Council could be the first legislative body in America to pass its own tax-and-regulate bill or law for [marijuana].”

In 2013, Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large) introduced the Marijuana Legalization and Regulation Act, legislation that would tax and regulate “the possession, consumption, purchasing, and transporting of marijuana, not in public, for persons over the age of 21.” It is being reviewed today at a hearing by the Alcohol Beverage Regulatory Administration and the Office of Tax and Revenue.

Grosso believes that D.C. has the infrastructure to legalize marijuana and develop a regulatory system.

“Fortunately, we do have a system in place. The department that is in charge of regulating alcohol would be put in charge of also regulating marijuana. We’d be able to regulate cultivators, retail centers, and enforce laws around underage consumption,” said Grosso. “We already have medical marijuana in place, so we already are cultivating marijuana in D.C. legally.” He hopes to have his bill go through the council by March.

Dr. Malik Burnett, policy manager of the Drug Policy Alliance, believes that legalizing marijuana would address health concerns.

“Many studies show that incarceration can lead to worse health effects than those associated with usage of marijuana,” said Burnett. “Marijuana is already in our society…We are trying to legalize it so that people are not continuously incarcerated, ticketed or harassed.”

Still, opponents have raised concerns about the potential consequences marijuana legalization could pose in areas of health, regulation, and enforcement. Grosso ensures that he and his supporters have conducted studies on other areas that have legalized or decriminalized marijuana, such as Colorado, one of the first states to legalize recreational use of the drug.

Chief John Jackson, president of the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police, cautions that D.C. legislators should take their time in developing an effective regulatory system, citing several problems that have occurred in Colorado since legalization, such as an increase in emergency room admissions due to marijuana by 82 percent since 2008.

“We don’t have governance on edibles—that is outright irresponsible in my opinion,” said Jackson. “We have just pushed forward, and our governor has been quoted as saying that we were reckless in going as fast as we did.”

Jackson indicated it isn’t just the governor who is unhappy with how legalization was implemented in Colorado. “There are a lot of voters that are woefully disappointed with how this law has manifested itself,” said Jackson. “There are a lot of people who say, ‘I voted for it, but I didn’t vote for this,’ … Everything is not as fantasy and going well as it would appear.”

Eidinger believes, though, that a lot of the issues apparent in Colorado, such as children getting access to edibles, could be solved by self-regulation at home and educating parents.

“I don’t think Colorado is being given a fair chance, because they are kind of an island in the sea of illegality,” said Eidinger. “People are traveling there and promoting a lot of bad behavior, so what we really need is a regional, a national solution.”

When it comes to how the legalization may affect college campuses, Grosso explains that any legal action is still under the purview of the university. He believes, however, that marijuana-related offenses will probably be treated similarly to alcohol offenses.

“Right now, if someone is caught on campus with a bag of marijuana, the university has to decide whether or not they’re going to call the police and turn the student in for breaking the law,” said Grosso. “They won’t have to do that anymore…they can refer to their own policies and procedures.”

However, Rachel Pugh, director of media relations at Georgetown, insists that there will be no change to current policies at the university.

“Georgetown University complies with both local and federal laws,” Pugh wrote in an email to the Voice. “Federal law prohibits possession, manufacturing, and use of marijuana. We do not have any plans to change our policies or the student code of conduct.”

Photo by Torben Hansen

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