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Proponents Of Marijuana Legalization Fight To Get Initiative On The Ballot

Under the proposed initiative, D.C. residents could legally possess up to two ounces of marijuana and grow three plants in their homes.
Under the proposed initiative, D.C. residents could legally possess up to two ounces of marijuana and grow three plants in their homes.

Proponents of an initiative that would legalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana in D.C. are fighting to keep it on the November ballot, and on Tuesday they will make their case to the D.C. Board of Elections.

The initiative would legalize the possession of up to two ounces of marijuana and the cultivation of up to three plants within a home and allow residents to give away one ounce of marijuana. Before it gets to the ballot, it has to get approval from the Board of Elections, and proponents will have to collect more than 23,000 signatures from residents within 180 days.

Last week D.C. Attorney General Irv Nathan asked the board to reject the initiative, saying that it would violate a federal law requiring D.C. to deny applicants who have been charged with drug offenses from public housing or voucher programs.

Under the initiative, D.C. would be prohibited from denying any public service — including housing — based on a marijuana-related offense.

While initiative backer Adam Eidinger originally said he would seek to amend the language to remove this conflict between local and federal law, on Friday his lawyers sent a letter to the board challenging Nathan's interpretation of federal law and how it could affect D.C. residents charged with marijuana offenses.

According to the letter, D.C. would still require all prospective public housing tenants to sign a lease stating that they would not engage in unlawful conduct, thus meeting the requirements of the federal law. Evicting any tenants for marijuana offenses, though, would be left to the discretion of D.C. housing officials.

"Under the Proposed Initiative, the District would be free to use the lease required by federal law and evict tenants who violate the terms of the lease, as well as regulate conduct made lawful by the Initiative on property that it owns," wrote attorney Joseph Sandler. "For that reason, there is absolutely no conflict between federal law and the Proposed Initiative."

The legal fight between Nathan and Eidinger draws from existing conflict between federal law, under which marijuana is illegal, and state laws, which are decriminalizing or legalizing marijuana.

In 2011, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development advised states that legalized medical marijuana — as D.C. did in 1998 — that they could deny new applicants to federally funded housing projects and voucher programs. At the same time, though, the department said it was up to the states to determine whether existing public housing tenants could be evicted due to their use of medical marijuana.

The board will hear from Nathan and Eidinger tomorrow, after which it will have to determine whether the initiative as written can make it to the signature-gathering step.

Whether or not the initiative makes it to the ballot, next month the D.C. Council is expected to give final approval to a bill decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Under the bill, the offense would fetch a $25 fine.

DCMJ Letter to Ken McGhie 2 21 14 SENT


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