Today the Washington, D.C. Board of Elections ruled that Initiative 71, an initiative reforming D.C.’s marijuana laws, has enough valid signatures in order to qualify for the November ballot. One month ago, the D.C. Cannabis Campaign submitted 57,000 signatures, more than twice the number needed to qualify for the ballot.
“It is clear from the number of signatures the campaign was able to submit that citizens want a major change in D.C’s marijuana laws,” said Dr. Malik Burnett, D.C. Policy Manager for the Drug Policy Alliance. “The policies of prohibition in the District have been borne on the backs of people of color for decades; District residents can put an end to this discrimination.”
Initiative 71 allows adults over the age of 21 to possess up to two ounces of marijuana, and allows for the cultivation of up to six marijuana plants at home. District law prevents the ballot initiative from addressing the sale of marijuana. However, the D.C. Council is currently considering a bill which would tax and regulate marijuana within the District.
The Drug Policy Alliance, the nation’s leading organization working to end the war on drugs, is kicking off a “Legalization Ends Discrimination” campaign to legalize marijuana in D.C, put a stop to racial disparities in marijuana law enforcement, and rebuild communities devastated by the war on drugs. This campaign, which will bring together stakeholders from across the District, seeks to end prohibition-related violence by bringing marijuana into a regulated market; create new, good paying jobs; use tax revenue from legal sales of marijuana for education, prevention and other services; and roll back punitive criminal justice policies.
The campaign builds on the work of the D.C. Council, which decriminalized marijuana this past spring. As recent data from numerous jurisdictions around the country, including D.C., indicate, decriminalization alone is not enough to end discrimination in marijuana enforcement. Colorado and Washington have seen precipitous declines in marijuana arrests since enacting legalization in 2012, saving these states millions in tax dollars, and eliminating the collateral consequences associated with arrests for marijuana possession.
“Marijuana decriminalization is not enough to end racial disparities in marijuana arrests, as we’ve seen in D.C. and cities like New York and Chicago,” added Dr. Burnett.
Polls show that more than 60 percent of D.C. voters want to legalize marijuana like alcohol. The District of Columbia currently has the highest per capita marijuana arrest rates in the U.S. In 2010 black people in the District accounted for 91 percent of all marijuana arrests – even though black and white people use marijuana at roughly similar rates, and black people comprise just half of the District’s population.
In addition to the D.C. ballot measure, voters in Oregon and Alaska will be voting this November on whether to join Colorado and Washington State in legalizing and regulating marijuana like alcohol. Florida voters will be voting whether to join 23 others states in legalizing marijuana for medical use. California voters are voting on a broad criminal justice measure that, among other things, would turn some drug felonies into misdemeanors.
Momentum is building for federal reform too. The U.S. House has voted five times in recent months to let states set their own marijuana policies – once to prohibit the DEA from undermining state medical marijuana laws, twice to prohibit the DEA from undermining state laws allowing the production of hemp, and twice in support of allowing state-legalized marijuana stores to open checking accounts and access other financial services. Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) have introduced bi-partisan legislation in the U.S. Senate to let states set their own medical marijuana policies. An amendment co-sponsored by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) allowing states to legalize hemp for research has passed the Senate Appropriations Committee.
“The American people are taking the lead on ending the failed war on marijuana and elected officials are wisely following,” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “The campaign to legalize marijuana in D.C. will improve the lives of our residents while moving this issue forward nationally.”