It’s official. Our nation’s capital is going to have a ballot vote to decide if pot will be legalized in the DC area.
The Washington Board of Elections determined that the DC Cannabis Campaign had indeed collected enough signatures to get Initiative 71 on the ballot on November 4 of this year. In fact, the campaign collected 57,000 signatures, more than double the number needed to get on the ballot.
“It is clear from the number of signatures the campaign was able to submit that citizens want a major change in D.C.’s marijuana laws,” Dr. Malik Burnett, District policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance.
At issue on the ballot is whether or not adults over the age of 21 can legally possess up to two ounces of marijuana and grow up to six marijuana plants at home. There is no mention in this initiative of selling marijuana, only personal possession.
Just last month, DC joined other states in decriminalizing marijuana. The difference between decriminalizing and legalizing may seem minimal to some. But decriminalized pot still brings with it the possibility of fines and court costs, just no jail time and felony criminal charges. Legalized pot bears no penalty whatsoever.
If the ballot initiative were to pass, it could be problematic for the district. The area of DC is not a state. It has no state constitution and autonomy. Its constitutional oversight lies directly with the U.S. Congress, which has forbidden legalizing or reducing marijuana penalties in Washington. DC has already tried once to legalize pot, but were blocked by budget maneuvering in Congress. Supporters say they are ready for such moves this time.
“We will not let history repeat itself,” D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton said in a release. “Republicans tried to prevent D.C. from voting on an initiative in 1998 to legalize medical marijuana, and after voters approved it, blocked its implementation with an appropriations rider for more than 10 years. We are not surprised that Republicans are threatening to again use the power of the federal government to block the will of the voters of a local jurisdiction. Many Republicans abandon their professed support of local control of local affairs when they have an opportunity to bully the residents of the District, who cannot hold them accountable at the ballot box. We have already begun working with our allies to protect the will of D.C. voters.”
In fact, this move in the very city of the nation’s capital flies on the face of the official stance of the Obama administration. In response to a recent New York Times editorial series calling for the federal legalization of marijuana — removing pot from the drug schedule as a Scehdule I substance, and leaving the issue to individual state to decide — the Obama administration issued this statement from the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
"The editors of The New York Times may have valid concerns about disproportionality throughout our criminal justice system. But we as policy makers cannot ignore the basic scientific fact that marijuana is addictive and marijuana use has harmful consequences. Increased consumption leads to higher public health and financial costs for society. Addictive substances like alcohol and tobacco, which are legal and taxed, already result in much higher social costs than the revenue they generate. The cost to society of alcohol alone is estimated to be more than 15 times the revenue gained by its taxation. For this reason, the Obama Administration and the Office of National Drug Control Policy remain committed to drug use prevention, treatment, support for recovery, and innovative criminal justice strategies to break the cycle of drug use and associated crime.”
If pot is legalized across the street from the White House, the effect on the national legalization debate could be profound.
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