Just blocks from Congress two members of the D.C. Council were out on a beautiful Sunday afternoon encouraging residents to help legalize marijuana locally. Council member Tommy Wells (D) told over a dozen signature gatherers from the DCMJ campaign that he is “behind them 100 percent” before they began canvassing door-to-door in his ward. It was one of several locations throughout the district where paid gatherers and volunteers were out working.
Having the backing of members of the council isn’t just helpful moral support but also critical for the campaign to fully realize its goal. Because DC ballot law doesn’t allow initiatives to affect tax revenue, Initiative 71 was written to only remove the criminal penalty for possession of up to two ounces of marijuana and allow for limited home growing. That would be a big improvement but still short of the goal of full legalization.
As Council member David Grosso (I) told the signature gatherers, “This is a two step process. We have to get this on the ballot then pass tax and regulate [in the council].”
If the initiative qualifies for the ballot and is overwhelmingly approved by the voters, both Wells and Grosso are confident that will push the council to respond by passing a bill for the regulation and taxation of recreational marijuana businesses. Grosso told me that under that scenario he thinks the odds of the council approving something similar to his ‘Marijuana Legalization and Regulation Act‘ are as high as 95 percent.
With a longer tenure on the council, Wells is slightly more measured in his prediction. Wells responded, “I believe a majority is there to pass it, but there is still a social conservative bent” in parts of the council. Even still, he puts the odds at a reassuring 80 percent.
At the moment it looks like the DCMJ campaign is on track to complete their part of the two step. To date they have collected roughly 30,000 raw signatures of which they have concluded 12,500 are valid. That means they are more than half way to the roughly 22,300 valid signatures they need by July 7th to make the November ballot. Campaign chairman Adam Eidinger expects efforts this weekend should result in well over 10,000 more raw signatures turned in to the campaign at the beginning of this week.
Of course the wild card is always the disgusting, unfair and undemocratic rules governing D.C.. Congress can technically override any of the local laws in the district, despite the fact that tax paying American citizens living there have no voting representation in Congress.
Jon Walker is the author of After Legalization: Understanding the future of marijuana policy