— DCMJ (@DCMJ2014) April 23, 2014
Volunteers in the District of Columbia have begun collecting signatures to legalize marijuana. On Wednesday the DCMJ was given the go ahead by the Board of Elections to begin circulating Initiative 71, the “Legalization of Possession of Minimal Amounts of Marijuana for Personal Use Act of 2014.”
To qualify for the November ballot the initiative will need to collect around 23,000 valid signatures by July 7th. It needs the signatures of five percent of registered voters District wide plus at least five percent of registered voters from at least five of the eight wards.
Campaign spokesman Adam Eidinger is confident that they have enough volunteers and staff to get the job done in less than three months, but even if they don’t they can still technically use their full 180 day window to gather more. Completing the signature gathering past July 7th, though, would result in the initiative instead being placed on a special election ballot which would probably have a lower and less favorable turnout.
If approved the initiative would make it legal for adults 21 and over to possess up to two ounces of marijuana, legalize marijuana paraphernalia and allow individuals to grow up to six plants at home. The initiative won’t legalize sale of marijuana, this was left out purely due to legal constraints. The campaign would have liked to include provisions creating a taxed and regulated retail system, but that would have potentially have run afoul of the district’s initiative rules.
If the initiative was approved and nothing else happens it would create new legal protections for cannabis users, but according to Eidinger the ultimate goal is to encourage the D.C. Council to follow up by passing a law creating a taxed and regulated marijuana system similar to that in Colorado. There is a good chance the council would take this step if the electorate strongly approves of legalization at the ballot box. The front runner for mayor in this year’s election, Muriel Bowser (D), has publicly stated her support for the idea of marijuana legalization.
There is already a marijuana legalization initiative on the general ballot in Alaska this November and potentially will be one or more on the ballot in Oregon. Unlike the states, though, any initiative in D.C. faces an additional hurdle: Congress.
Because of the shockingly undemocratic rules governing the district, Congress can overrule any locally approved law even though the people of D.C. have zero representation in Congress. While Congress doesn’t often exercise this power, they stepped in to prevent the district from implementing the medical marijuana initiative which voters overwhelming approved in 1998. Hopefully, the politics around marijuana reform have shifted dramatically enough to make a repeat performance by Congress unlikely.
Jon Walker is the author of After Legalization: Understanding the future of marijuana policy