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D.C. Elections Board Puts Marijuana Legalization Initiative On November Ballot

If the initiative passes in November, D.C. residents will be legally allowed to possess up to two ounces of marijuana.
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If the initiative passes in November, D.C. residents will be legally allowed to possess up to two ounces of marijuana.

The D.C. Board of Elections today announced that proponents of an initiative to legalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana had collected enough signatures to put the measure on November's ballot.

The board ruled that of the close to 57,000 signatures submitted for the initiative, 27,688 were valid. According to D.C. law, signatures from five percent of the number of registered voters in the city are needed to put an initiative on the ballot, or 22,375. The law also requires that proponents gather signatures from five percent of voters in five of the city's eight wards; the marijuana legalization initiative received five percent in six wards.

Under the initiative, residents over the age of 21 would be able to legally possess up to two ounces of marijuana and grow up to six plants — three mature, three immature — in their homes. The initiative does not address the sale or use of marijuana, though there is a bill before the D.C. Council that would allow the city to tax and regulate the sale of marijuana.

A law decriminalizing the possession of less than one ounce of marijuana went into effect in July. Unlike the $25 fine that residents can now get for possession, the initiative, if passed, would fully remove any penalties from the possession of marijuana.

Adam Eidinger, a local marijuana activist who fought to put the initiative on the ballot, said he was "relieved, but not surprised" with the board's decision. Since March, Eidinger and other proponents fought D.C. Attorney General Irv Nathan and members of the elections board to ensure that the initiative got to voters.

He says the campaign spent close to $184,000 to collect and verify the signatures, much of which came from Dr. Bronner, a California-based organic soap maker who has funded marijuana legalization efforts in various states.

The initiative isn't yet a done deal, though — proponents say they will campaign vigorously over the next three months, and hope to register an additional 50,000 voters across the city.

"We plan to engage in a very concerted voter registration effort," says Dr. Malik Burnett, co-chair of the D.C. Cannabis Campaign, which spearheaded the effort. "We think that this initiative will provide a lot of energy to the election. The primary had very low turnout."

Eidinger say that mayoral contenders Muriel Bowser and David Catania have said they support the right of residents to vote on the issue, though Eidinger criticized Bowser — who signed the petition — for not going further in saying whether she would vote for the measure or not. Another candidate, Carol Schwartz, said on WAMU 88.5's The Politics Hour in June that she opposes the vote.

"I am not for legalizing marijuana. I think we have enough," she said. "And now that I travel around on the streets again and I see people that are so stoned on alcohol and other drugs, and many of them marijuana, I think we have enough of a stoned population."

Even if the initiative passes, Congress can still intervene. After 69 percent of D.C. residents approved an initiative in 1998 legalizing medicinal marijuana, Congress prohibited the city from implementing the law for close to a decade.

"I think that [residents'] voice at the ballot box will send a message to Congress that D.C. is serious is serious about reforming it's marijuana laws," said Burnett. "Insofar as the federal government would like to put a stop to that, they would be overstepping the will of the District and I don't think District residents would appreciate that."

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