The Nation's Capital Might Legalize Marijuana in November

Despite Congress’ wishes, the residents of the nation’s capital already decriminalized marijuana, treating small amounts of possession similar to a parking violation with a fine. Now the District may be about to follow Colorado and Washington state and legalize it altogether.

More than 57,000  DC voters, organized by the lobby group DC Cannabis, signed a petition to get a pot legalization initiative (Initiative 71) onto the upcoming ballot. That’s more than double the number of signatures required, so today the DC Board of Elections ruled that the initiative is valid and will appear on the November ballot.

It has a good chance of passing, since polls show more than 60 percent of DC voters in favor of legalization. 

As with alcohol, the new law would allow adults 21 and over to use marijuana. It would also allow those adults to possess up to two ounces of marijuana and cultivate a maximum of six marijuana plants—though only three of those plants can be fully mature.

Unlike alcohol (and unlike pot in WA and CO), the current initiative fails to address how DC would tax and regulate the newly legal substance. So, the DC Council is considering a second bill that would tax and regulate the sale of marijuana.

Washington, DC has the highest arrest rate for marijuana possession in the country, as reported by ACLU last year. And, despite the fact that both groups use pot at similar rates, black people are at least eight times more likely than white people to be arrested. And, in  2010 black people actually accounted for 91 percent of all marijuana arrests, as the Drug Policy Alliance pointed out in a press release.

The DPA is a national organization focused on ending the racist, failed war on drugs once and for all, and is heading up a “Legalization Ends Discrimination” campaign in DC. The campaign advocates for legalization as a means to address racial disparities in marijuana law enforcement and aid communities devastated by the war on drugs.

As a DPA press release notes, “the campaign builds on the work of the DC Council, which decriminalized marijuana this past spring. As recent data from numerous jurisdictions around the country, including DC, indicate, decriminalization alone is not enough to end discrimination in marijuana enforcement.”

Legalization, on the other hand, actually succeeds in reducing arrests. As the DPA points out, Colorado and Washington marijuana arrests have declined post-legalization, “saving these states millions in tax dollars, and eliminating the collateral consequences associated with arrests for marijuana possession.”

Major Neill Franklin (Ret.), executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and former undercover narcotics cop said the initiative “comes at a great time and in a great place.” He continued,

“The District has one of the country’s highest rates of racial disparities in arrest and is right at Congress’s doorstep, where more and more political leaders from both sides of the aisle are beginning to follow their constituents in recognizing that drug policy reform is one of the most effective ways to address the problems of our current criminal justice system.”

Joining DC in the marijuana legalization vote this November are Oregon and Alaska, both of which have a good chance of passing their initiatives, according to polls. Florida's voters will decide whether to join 23 others states in legalizing medical marijuana, and California's voters will weigh a broad criminal justice bill that would turn some drug felonies into misdemeanors, among other things. 

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