We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
Marijuana activist Adam Eidinger, the man behind the Initiative 71 ballot measure that legalized possessing and growing modest amounts of cannabis in one’s home last year, says he’ll design two other ballot initiatives for the 2016 District election if the D.C. Council approves as introduced a bill that would continue an existing ban on using marijuana in private bars and clubs.
The first, Eidinger said Thursday morning at a hearing on the bill—which a majority of the Council and Mayor Muriel Bowser have supported as a way to prevent nuisances to neighbors of potential “cannabis clubs“—would treat pot “the same as tobacco as far as its public use.” That means its consumption could be regulated owing to concerns about second-hand smoke, but potentially allowed on sidewalks, in open-air environments (at a specified distance away from schools, for example).
Eidinger’s other initiative, however, was more of a pot-shot at D.C. legislators and executives: It would seek to bring back term limits for the Council and Mayor that were repealed in 2001, after local voters had approved them in 1994. The two-term limits would be “partially retroactive,” so elected officials who had already served two terms would not be permitted to serve the next.
“If D.C. Council passes this unnecessary legislation, DCMJ.org, my organization with more than 10,000 supporters across D.C. and the region, will be forced to bring [these] initiatives…to clarify what the people want versus the special interests you seem to be serving by even considering this prejudicial and harmful bill to marijuana users and their families,” Eidinger testified. “You are simply forcing a new voter initiative if you pass this terrible bill that creates a political crisis for medical marijuana patients instead of making or city a better place for all residents.”
He and many of the thirty or so witnesses who spoke at Thursday’s hearing argued that the proposed legislation would infringe upon people’s civil liberties and disparately impact poorer residents. Kate Bell, director of DCMJ, said the bill expands the definition of a public place beyond what voters approved through Initiative 71. The bill, she added, would “unfairly discriminate against low income people,” who live in federally subsidized public housing and are not permitted to consume cannabis at home or—like everyone else—in public. Furthermore, Bell claimed, many residents have an interest in consuming marijuana in social settings, noting that the substance is less detrimental to one’s health than alcohol, yet drinkers “have hundreds of bars from which to choose.”
Reached by phone Thursday afternoon, Eidinger said he’s working on a draft of the term-limit initiative and starting to solicit feedback on it, but would “rather not” go through with it. Adding that he’d like for the ban on consuming weed in private venues to expire (passed through emergency legislation in 2014), Eidinger clarified that it would still be illegal for a business to promise marijuana in exchange for admittance to a bar or club and for anyone to sell it. The current law also isn’t being enforced, he said.
“The reality is that marijuana is being used every day in the week at nightclubs across the city, [but] not a single business-owner has lost their license under this law,” Eidinger explained. “All we’re fighting for right now is the right to use your own cannabis that you grew yourself, or that you got as a gift, somewhere other than your home…As far as next steps, if they modify the [bill] to carve out this private-event exception, where if you close it to the public there could be cannabis consumption, that’d be big.”
Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie, who chaired the Committee on the Judiciary hearing, wondered if the clarification bill before the Council might be overly broad, saying the executive branch would likely get more questions from the committee.
“I think most people who testified today…would say that to [consume cannabis] in private [under Initiative 71] didn’t exclusively mean in a personal residence,” McDuffie remarked to Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs Director Melinda Bolling. “And so when you say you want to clarify that it meant in a personal residence, I think that’s what people take issue with; [that] it’s not necessarily a clarification, it is adding on to the existing law.”
“Why should we necessarily treat ‘distinctly private clubs’ that serve marijuana differently than those that serve alcohol?” he asked. Bolling replied that while she couldn’t speak for the District’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration, the intent of Initiative 71 and D.C.’s decriminalization law was to let people 21-and-older use cannabis “where the public can’t be affected.”
A Washington Post poll conducted last month found that fewer than 40 percent of respondents who said they smell marijuana at least once a month were bothered by the scent; additionally, 69 percent of those surveyed said they still support Initiative 71.
Photo by Katheirne Hitt via Flickr/CC BY-ND 2.0