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Activist Wants D.C. Voters To Decide On Marijuana Legalization

Could marijuana eventually be legal in D.C.? The voters could well decide it.
Matthew Kenwrick: http://www.flickr.com/photos/58847482@N03/5396653671/
Could marijuana eventually be legal in D.C.? The voters could well decide it.

A D.C. activist who earlier this year pledged to a put a marijuana decriminalization measure before the city's voters has changed his mind: he now wants voters to weigh in on whether marijuana use and possession should be outright legalized.

At a hearing of the D.C. Board of Elections this morning, Adam Eidinger withdrew a proposed initiative that would have lowered penalties for the use and possession of less than two ounces of marijuana and announced that he would instead submit language fully legalizing marijuana as Washington State voters did in 2012.

"The next version, which we hope to have by Friday, will be full legalization, which is what we've been fighting for," he said.

According to Eidinger, the initiative he hopes to place before D.C. voters in November 2014 would allow residents to grow between three and six plants for personal use, and would remove any criminal penalties—whether jail time or even tickets and fines—for possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Currently, the possession of any amount of marijuana in D.C. is a misdemeanor with a penalty of up to 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. Medical marijuana is available to qualifying patients, though the city's program is tightly regulated.

In July, D.C. Council members Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) and Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) introduced decriminalization legislation, but Eidinger said that it did not include a home cultivation provision. He hopes that his legalization initiative will help the Wells and Barry bill improve, and if it doesn't, it will serve as an alternative.

"The threat of a legalization initiative will help the Wells bill improve," said Eidinger, who in the past had been engaged in the development of the city's medical marijuana program and ran a shop that sold pipes and implements that could be used to smoke marijuana. That shop, Capitol Hemp, closed last year after a police raid.

If the initiative moves forward, it could face opposition from D.C. Attorney General Irv Nathan. In a late-August letter responding to Eidinger's original decriminalization proposal, Nathan said that if it passed, D.C. police officers could be forced to ignore violations of federal law.

"We are aware of no other statute in which the Council, or the public by initiative, has prohibited MPD from arresting an individual when MPD has probable cause to believe that the individual has committed a federal crime," wrote Nathan.

Last week the Department of Justice announced a change of policy regarding enforcement of marijuana laws, though, saying that it would defer to states in which marijuana has been decriminalized or legalized.

Regardless of whether it's the Council or D.C. voters that agree to either decriminalization or outright legalization, any measure would have to be approved by Congress. In 1998 Congress blocked implementation of an initiative legalizing marijuana for medicinal uses, delaying the program until 2009.

Earlier this summer the ACLU reported that D.C. posted the highest rate of arrests for the possession of marijuana in the country.

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