The Law, Briefly
With 69 percent of voters checking yes on Initiative 71, Washington DC approved marijuana legalization by the largest margin of any state. The initiative had broad support, with citizens of every age, gender, race, and ethnicity backing legalization, and won all but one of the city’s precincts.
The Legalization of Possession of Minimal Amounts of Marijuana for Personal Use Act of 2014 permits any person over the age of 21 to possess, use, purchase, or transport up to two ounces of cannabis. Residents are also permitted to grow up to six plants in a “principle residence,” including rental units, with no more than three flowering at any one time, and to keep the cannabis produced by those plants, as long as it isn’t sold or offered for sale.
As in the other states, it’s totally legal, and a nice thing for you to do, to give away your cannabis to another adult over the age of 21.
Who’s the Boss?
Angela! And by Angela we mean Congress. All laws passed in the District of Columbia must be approved by Congress before they take effect, and it’s entirely possible that the will of the people could be, at the very least, delayed during the 30-day review period expected to begin in early 2015.
Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), pictured below as the number 106 menu item at the famous Chick and Ruth’s Delly in Annapolis, Maryland, has vowed to do whatever he can to block the initiative.
“The federal government should enforce federal law, regardless of whether local citizens try to legalize marijuana,” the rapidly congealing congressman said in response to the DC vote. “I will consider using all resources available to a member of Congress to stop this action.”
However, protein-heavy Harris may not have the backing of his own party. He tried in June to prevent Washington from implementing decriminalization with federal money but was unsuccessful, partly due to a threatened boycott of resorts in the district Harris is actually supposed to represent, Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
During an election night interview, Rand Paul (R-KY) took a much less defiant stance on enacting legislation that has the support of an overwhelming majority: “I haven’t really taken a stand…but I’m against the federal government telling them they can’t.”
Even the Washington Post, which came out against Initiative 71 prior to the election, disagrees with Harris. Their latest editorial on the issue states: “We did not favor passage of Initiative 71, but we do believe in democracy and self-government. Congress should recognize how inappropriate it would be to interfere with the District on this local issue.”
In order to completely overturn the measure, Harris and supporters would need the approval of both the House and the Senate, as well as the president, a feat accomplished just three times in 40 years. However, total nullification isn’t the only way to prevent Initiative 71 from taking effect. In 1998, DC voted to approve medical marijuana, and Republican House members were able to prevent its implementation for 11 years by attaching federal spending provisions.
Same as it Ever Was
The District has worked for years to change its policy around marijuana, and the passing of Initiative 71 follows the vote to decriminalize possession of small amounts this past summer. The movement was as much about correcting years of racially-biased law enforcement (91 percent of marijuana arrests in DC are of African-Americans, constituting the largest racial disparity in the nation) as it was about providing legal options for purchasing recreational marijuana. Additionally, Washington’s City Council recently voted to seal the records of people arrested for marijuana offenses that are no longer crimes.
As of right now it’s not legal in DC, and there’s obviously some legitimacy to the concern it won’t be anytime soon. WRK is going to stay optimistic. With 69 percent of citizens in favor of the initiative, the politicians who block this will be opening themselves up to a lot of criticism.
Licensed recreational establishments could be awhile off, though. Washington State voted to regulate the sale of recreational cannabis in 2012, but, with no system in place, shops didn’t start popping up until the summer of 2014; when they did open it was with very limited variety and quantity. Because 71 was a citizens’ initiative, it could not contain mandates for the expenditure of city funds, and city funds would be essential to set up any kind of regulatory system. For this reason, Initiative 71 can only legalize personal use and hope that the City Council sets up the framework to allow for recreational shops, a process they’ve already initiated. Mayor-elect Muriel Bowser said she supports regulated sales and will not allow the initiative to take effect until a system for taxing and regulating cannabis is in place: “I see no reason why we wouldn’t follow a regime similar to how we regulate and tax alcohol.” She can expect a challenge from the D.C. Cannabis Campaign and others who worked for last week’s victory for cannabis in the capital.
So in conclusion, we should all just hold our breath. According to some sources, holding your breath is better.