Voters could decide in November’s general election whether to legalize possession of marijuana for personal consumption in D.C., after elections officials ruled this week that a ballot measure on pot could go forward.
The D.C. Cannabis Campaign had submitted the initiative, which would make possession of less than two ounces of pot legal for people over 21 years old, in January for review. It would also allow people to give up to one ounce of pot away for free and to possess up to six marijuana plants (three of them “mature, flowering” plants) in a home or residence. The city’s Office of the Attorney General opposed letting it go forward, telling the Board of Elections that it wasn’t a proper subject for a D.C. ballot initiative because it conflicts with federal laws banning drugs in public housing.
But in an order issued yesterday by a 2-1 vote, the Board approved the initiative, finding that it doesn’t conflict impermissibly with federal law because public housing tenants who possess pot “even if it’s legal in the District” could still be evicted for violating the terms of their leases, rather than for doing something that’s allowed in D.C. but not by the feds.
Now the question is whether the delay in approving the measure will make collecting signatures to get on the ballot harder. “This is huge, and we are excited, great—-I can congratulate the lawyers, good work, we got this far,” says Adam Eidinger, the chairman of the Cannabis Campaign. “But we got screwed, because this thing was delayed for no good reason. It’s really a shame.”
The Board has up to 20 days to schedule a hearing to approve the title of the initiative, and then there’s a mandatory 10-day public comment period. Which could mean, if the Board takes its full time, that the title isn’t approved by the April 1 primary election—-which would be a handy time for supporters to talk to large numbers of registered voters and ask them to sign petitions. Regulations require signatures from at least 5 percent of the city’s registered voters, or about 22,000 people, and they must reflect at least 5 percent of voters in at least five of the city’s eight wards.
The Cannabis Campaign has plans to have volunteers and paid signature-gatherers out on election day, Eidinger says. “People want to go to the polls for couple hours and have something to talk about,” he says. “The polls are usually a big gabfest in this town, it’s usually very nice. It’ll remind people that, ‘Hey, you got to come back in November.'”
The D.C. Council just passed legislation decriminalizing possession of small amounts of pot on private property, but the legalization initiative would completely abolish penalties for possession.
Read the Board of Elections order, and a dissent by member Stephen Danzansky, here: