Adam Eidinger, the chair of the D.C. Cannabis Campaign, has been working to legalize marijuana in the District for more than a decade. And it looks like tomorrow, when D.C. voters are expected to pass an initiative to legalize marijuana, could finally be his day.
But if all goes to plan, there’s one thing Eidinger won’t be doing to celebrate: lighting up in public.
“I’m worried that the city is going to erupt in smoking on election night. That is not the kind of behavior we are looking for,” Eidinger says. “Celebrate at home.”
Initiative 71 would allow people over 21 to possess up to two ounces of marijuana for personal use and grow up to six cannabis plants. It does not allow people to smoke in public.
And if Initiative 71 is victorious at the polls, the new law doesn’t automatically take effect—-this is D.C., after all. The D.C. Board of Elections will have to verify the results and then the legislation is subject to a 60-day congressional review period. D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson tells City Desk he plans to submit the legislation to Congress in December or January, which likely means it will have to pass through the incoming 114th Congress, which could be entirely controlled by Republicans.
“I do expect friction, but my expectation is that it will go through the review period,” Mendelson says.
In June, for instance, Republican Rep. Andy Harris of Maryland tacked on an amendment to an unrelated spending bill that would prevent the District from enforcing its marijuana decriminalization law. All of the money the District spends—yes, that includes the money it gets from its local tax base—must be approved by Congress. This gives elected officials who don’t represent D.C., like Harris, the power to block the law through the appropriations process. That legislation didn’t pass.
“We are going to raise hell like you wouldn’t believe,” Eidinger says of what would happen if someone tries to block the law.
Once the bill goes into law, it would still not be legal to sell marijuana. The Council is currently crafting legislation that would regulate the legal sale of marijuana in D.C. (Initiative 71 only legalizes possession, not sales.) At-Large Councilmember David Grosso wrote the current draft of legislation—the Marijuana Legalization and Regulation Act of 2013—and says the Council will be working on it over the next few months.
Eidinger says he expects it could take until fall of 2016 before legislation legalizing sales goes into effect. Mendelson could not predict how long it would take, but says he doesn’t expect it to take that long.