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There was really only one rule that mattered Tuesday night at the victory party organized by the people who led a ballot initiative legalizing recreational marijuana in D.C. to an overwhelming win: No smoking.
Sure, Initiative 71—which will make possession of up to two ounces of pot for personal use legal for anyone over 21 (as well as let people give weed to friends, possess bongs and pipes, and grow up to six plants for personal use), passed with 65 percent of the vote. And yes, only one precinct, in upper Northwest’s Spring Valley, opposed it.
This is still D.C., though, and the ballot measure needs to make it past a Congress of newly empowered Republicans from everywhere else in the United States before it becomes law. And at least some of these Republicans aim to portray the measure as a story of potheads trying to legalize a debilitating substance. Rep. Andy Harris, a Maryland Republican who already tried to block D.C.’s decriminalization law through the appropriations process, has vowed to do everything in his power to block the initiative from taking effect.
So both because possession of (much less consumption of) a joint in public remains illegal for now, and also for appearance’s sake, partygoers needed to play it safe. But when a couple hundred of D.C.’s most zealous marijuana supporters, who’d all worked hard to get the initiative passed, are packed into a basement bar for a victory party, that’s not the most natural script.
“If there was a concentration of pot smokers, they’re right here, and they’re not smoking right now,” said Adam Eidinger, chair of the D.C. Cannabis Campaign, which was instrumental in getting the initiative on the ballot and leading it to victory. (The party still hit some stereotypes: An obviously stoned white reggae singer playing what he called “ganja music” was the entertainment, and some tie-dyed shirts served as raffle prizes.)
Still, no matter how easy it is for Harris and his ilk to get headlines for trying to overturn the will of the people when they don’t have to worry about the people actually voting for or against them, pot proponents and D.C. officials alike think the GOP will let the initiative slink quietly into law. In the Senate, Kentucky Republican Rand Paul stands to take over the subcommittee that oversees D.C., and he says the feds should stay out of local marijuana legalization efforts. In the House, D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton promises to give anyone who messes with the initiative “the fight of their lives.”
Oregon and Alaska also passed legalization legislation this week, which Norton says will help her defend D.C.’s law from Congress. (A Department of Justice spokesperson issued a statement after the election suggesting it wouldn’t get involved: “As our Aug. 29, 2013 guidance memorandum laid out, the department’s enforcement resources will continue to be aimed at the most significant threats to the community,” which presumably don’t include pot-smoking Washingtonians.)
But Eidinger and his allies made clear that the message of the initiative wasn’t about getting high but rather ending a prohibition on a drug that lands a disproportionate amount of black men in jail.
“Let’s dedicate this to people still sitting in jail for marijuana,” Eidinger said during his victory speech, leading the crowd in a chant of “bring them home.”
And at least for now, legal pot in D.C. still won’t be quite like legal pot in Colorado, for reasons that have nothing to do with terroir. Initiative 71 only legalized possession of marijuana, not its sale. It doesn’t allow people to smoke in public, either.
Spearheaded by At-Large Councilmember David Grosso, the D.C. Council is already working on legislation that would set up a legal framework for selling, and potentially taxing, marijuana. That’ll still take at least a few more months to be finalized, though, and then that, too, will need to maneuver through Congress.
The D.C. Office of the Chief Financial Officer estimates that pot could be a more than $130 million annual industry in D.C., so there’s good motivation for the Council to move everything along swiftly.
“We have a pretty damn good city council now on this issue,” Eidinger said Tuesday night. “Minus one or two bad apples.”
Photo by Darrow Montgomery