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The D.C. Board of Elections ruled today that an initiative that would legalize the possession of marijuana is allowed to appear on the November ballot.
In its order, the board ruled that the initiative — which would still need more than 25,000 signatures from residents to get on the ballot — complied with D.C. law regarding what residents are allowed to vote on. Initiatives cannot appropriate funds, cannot discriminate against a specific group and cannot violate federal law.
The board specifically disagreed with D.C. Attorney General Irv Nathan, who argued that the initiative would contravene federal law regarding public housing and drug offenses. Nathan said that initiative, which would prohibit residents from being denied public services based on drug offenses, would violate federal law that requires just that for public housing.
Last week the D.C. Housing Authority argued that it was still navigating conflicting local and federal laws on marijuana, but it said that existing federal law offers the agency — which manages 8,000 public housing units — discretion in when to evict tenants for drug-related offenses.
According to the board, as long as leases for public housing units include provisions prohibiting drug use, they would comply with federal law.
The only dissent on the three-person board came from Republican member Stephen Danzansky, who agreed with Nathan's assessment of how the initiative — if passed — would impact federal law. The Housing Authority receives 98 percent of its funding from the federal government.
With the board's approval, proponents now face the more challenging task of collecting signatures from five percent of the city's registered voters, including five percent from five of the city's eight wards. They have 180 days to gather the signatures after the initiative's language is finalized, which will take place within the next three weeks.
If the initiative reaches the ballot and passes, it would go further than a recent D.C. Council bill that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. The initiative would remove all penalties for possession of less than two ounces, and allow residents to grow up to three plants.