Under a ballot intiative D.C. residents will vote on in November, possession of up to two ounces of marijuana would become legal.
With D.C. residents set to vote in November on a ballot initiative that would legalize the possession or marijuana, opposition to the measure is emerging — and it's being led by a 24-year-old.
D.C. resident Will Jones III recently launched Two Is Enough D.C., a movement seeking to galvanize opposition to the ballot initiative, which would eliminate all criminal penalties for possession of any less than two ounces of marijuana and allow residents over the age of 21 to grow up to six plants in their homes.
Jones, who is black, says that he is concerned that the initiative would be a step towards a third legal drug industry in the city — along with alcohol and tobacco — that would target the African American community.
"Let's see what tobacco and alcohol have done, and they haven't had a positive impact, especially on our community. My concern is that with legal marijuana, eventually we're going to be looking at the same thing," he says.
"If we look at where the disproportionate number of liquor stores are, it's in the African American community. It's the same thing with tobacco advertisements — we're disproportionately targeted. I think we're going to see the same thing with legal marijuana. I really want people to reconsider what we're going into with legal marijuana in D.C.," he adds.
Unlike Colorado and Washington, D.C.'s ballot initiative would not allow for the sale of marijuana, though there is a bill before the D.C. Council that would empower the city to tax and regulate its sale.
Proponents of the recent decriminalization law — which dropped the penalty for possession of any less than an ounce of marijuana to a $25 ticket — and the legalization initiative say that they are measures aimed at slowing the drug war, which they say has disproportionately impacted black men.
Jones doesn't buy it, though.
"One thing that's disturbed me a lot is the false dichotomy that marijuana legalization lobbyists have put forth in saying that the effort to legalize marijuana is to deal with the incarceration rate of African American men, to deal with the failed war on drugs. I agree that the criminal justice system is not as it should be and that the war on drugs has failed, but I don't think that answer to that is legalizing marijuana," he says.
Jones supports research on the medicinal possibilities of marijuana, and agrees that residents caught with marijuana shouldn't be sent to jail. Still, he says the city's decriminalization law doesn't go far enough in distinguishing between children and adults, and argues that it shouldn't be a pathway to full legalization.
"I'm not for decriminalization if it's just going to be a stepping stone to legalization," he says.
Jones says he is hoping to spread his message and partner with churches and other community groups to oppose the initiative. He may have a powerful ally: Dr. Kevin Sabet, a former official with the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy and member of the anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, is set to come to D.C. later this month to discuss the health impacts of marijuana and its possible legalization.
Still, opponents of the initiative like Jones have their work cut out for them: A Washington Post poll published earlier this year found that 63 percent of residents backed legalization, and in 1998 69 percent of residents endorsed the city's medical marijuana program.
The D.C. Cannabis Campaign, which sponsored the initiative, spent close to $180,000 getting the measure on the ballot, and has pledged to spend more to ensure that voters approve it. Much of the money came from David Bronner, a wealthy California-based organic soap maker who has backed legalization initiatives in other states.
Among the city's mayoral contenders, only Carol Schwartz has explicitly come out against legalization. "I am not for legalizing marijuana. I think we have enough," she said on WAMU 88.5's The Politics Hour in June. "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."
Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.), who tried to stop D.C.'s decriminalization law from taking effect, has said that he will similarly try to stop the legalization initiative. After the 1998 vote on medical marijuana, congressional Republicans stopped the city from implementing the program for close to a decade.