If all goes as planned the citizens of Washington D.C. will be joining the people of Oregon and Alaska in voting on to make possession of marijuana legal this November. On Monday the campaign submitted over 57,000 raw signatures to the Board of Elections to get their initiative on the ballot.
Campaign chairman Adam Eidinger told me their internal verification process found over 50 percent of those signatures were valid, which means the campaign should easily surpass the requirement of roughly 22,000 signatures. Eidinger added, “I feel confident that the hard work of the DCMJ signature gathers will pay off when the board certifies it later this summer.”
Getting on the ballot will be an impressive feat for a local campaign given that legal wrangling over the initiative greatly shortened the window of time to gather signature before November, not to mention the unique issues with gathering signatures in D.C. There are a large number of tourists, commuters from the surrounding states, people who live in D.C. but remain registered elsewhere, and federal employees that were afraid to sign. Mark Verdugo, one of the campaigns more prolific signature gathers, informed me earlier that he encountered a lot of federal employees who didn’t want their name to appear on the petition but still claimed to be supportive.
Making the ballot is just one of the many hurdles before eventual victory. Winning with the local voters is the next step but that should be fairly easy. A Washington Post poll from earlier this year found 63 percent support legalization. The biggest challenges will likely come after. Eidinger told me, “We have to succeed after the election too.”
The campaign also requires the help of the D.C. City Council to achieve their ultimate goal. Due to the district’s rules governing initiatives, the measure could only legalize possession of up to two ounces for adults and very limited home growing. It would take an act of the Council to create a regulated and taxed legal market. While even that is achievable it would create another chance for Congress to interfere and that could be the biggest problem.
Because of the uniquely anti-democratic rules governing D.C., Congress is always the morally reprehensible 800 pound gorilla in local politics. Every local law and initiative must have a Congressional review period, and Congress can override the will of the local citizens – despite the fact that the federal taxpaying people of D.C. have no representation in Congress. Republicans have a habit of abusing this shameful unfair power.
Already there is one ham-handed committee amendment by Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) to try to block the marijuana decriminalization law and the possible vote on legalization in D.C. Others attempt could also follow at several different points in the process. Ultimately, the big battle over D.C local marijuana laws may be fought in Congress where unfortunately the people of D.C. don’t have voice.
Jon Walker is the author of After Legalization: Understanding the future of marijuana policy