By an estimated 2-to-1 margin, voters in Washington D.C. are expected to pass the legalization of marijuana. According to a local NBC4/Washington Post/Marist DC poll, a sample of more than 1,000 registered and likely voters showed an overwhelming support of the measure. Furthermore, of black citizens in the District, who now make up 50 percent of the population, more than half said they plan to vote for legalization.
District voters will take to the polls next Tuesday, November 4, 2014, and cast their support or rejection of Initiative 71. If the ballot measure follows suit of Colorado and Washington state, possession of marijuana, home cultivation of it and the sale of paraphernalia related to it would be legal in the entire District for those 21 or older.
The measure was subjected to “months of review and numerous public comments,” according to Initiative 71’s website. In January of 2014 the DC Cannabis Campaign submitted the ballot initiative to the District of Columbia Board of Elections and Ethics and did collect comments, but only on its public website.
However, the initiatives’s organizers collected more than 60,000 signatures to get the measure on the ballot. While they only needed 22,600, volunteers to collect signatures came as far away as California to assist and were met with enthusiasm by residents.
Subsequently, two hearings (February and March of 2014) were held before April 5, 2014, to complete language finalization and submission to the Board.
One reason the electorate is expected to support the measure is that in March of 2014 the District’s lawmakers eliminated jail time for an offense of marijuana possession under one ounce and made it a simple $25 fine. Many believe Mayor Vincent Gray signed the bill to institute civil fines rather than jail time due to the racial issues surrounding the arrest and incarceration rates of the District’s residents. Since July 17, when the decriminalization law took effect, support has grown to completely legalize the substance.
However, there are many opposed to the legalization of marijuana in the District. Delroy Burton, the chair of the DC Police Union has been outspoken since the District of Columbia Council approved the decriminalization measure last March. According to him, the vagueness of the new laws can and will make the jobs of police officers more difficult. He went as far as saying that police will now have to go out and, “enforce a convoluted mess.”
Although the bill will likely pass, the District’s police force will not have to act until the 60-day waiting period passes, assuming that Congress takes no action during that time.
In the 60 days after the initiative passes Congress can choose to do nothing, or seek support from the House, Senate and President Obama to block the measure. For those who remember the 1998 attempt to legalize marijuana in the District of Columbia, that is exactly what happened even with the public voting 69 percent in favor of legalizing medical marijuana.
No matter the outcome on Tuesday, the issues most closely watched by the District’s residents will be Initiative 71 and the Mayoral re-election.