It’s official: Residents of the District of Columbia will decide in November whether they want to legalize marijuana for recreational use within city limits.
Elections officials announced Aug. 6 that the question will appear on the general election ballot Nov. 4. The initiative is widely expected to pass in a city that overwhelmingly favors cannabis reform.
The D.C. Board of Elections voted 3-0 to approve the initiative for the ballot, saying enough of the 57,000 voter signatures that activists submitted are valid. Less than 23,000 valid signatures were required, and the elections board certified 27,688.
Support for legalization in D.C. is strong. A recent poll by The Washington Post found 63 percent of residents want to make pot legal for recreational use.
But Republicans in Congress could try to prevent the initiative from taking effect if it passes. Lawmakers in the past have blocked local officials from even counting referendum votes after invalidating the laws they would create.
GOP members of the House of Representatives recently launched an effort to overturn an earlier vote by the District Council to decriminalize possession of small amounts of weed. Under that policy, violators would pay a $25 fine rather than going to jail.
Anti-drug zealots in the House voted in July to block decriminalization from taking effect, though the move probably won’t succeed. The Senate must also vote to stop the district’s new policy, and President Obama must sign off on the resulting legislation. Neither of those things is likely.
If it happens, it would be the first time Congress has prevented marijuana reform in the District. Sixteen years ago voters approved medial marijuana, but lawmakers stopped the vote count until a court ruling determined 69 percent of voters supported MMJ. Even then, Congress blocked the law from taking effect until 2009.
U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, Republican of Maryland, introduced a budget amendment that led to the vote against decriminalization. Harris called the idea “bad policy” and argued its provisions are too lenient.
It’s unclear how lawmakers will respond to a legalization vote in the fall. Any move to stop it from taking effect would run counter to the current national currents of reform. And that could backfire.
Even many Republicans have shown a recent change of heart on cannabis issues. The House voted in June to stop the Department of Justice from interfering with medical weed in states where it’s legal. A month later, the House rejected one lawmaker’s attempt to scuttle federal rules that make it easier for banks to work with marijuana providers.
The D.C. initiative would completely legalize possession of up to two ounces of weed for personal use by adults over 21. Cultivation of up to six plants would also be allowed, and adults could give as much as an ounce as a gift.
But the initiative wouldn’t allow the actual sale or distribution of cannabis. That, said Malik Burnett, a doctor and leader of the D.C. Cannabis Campaign, would require a vote from the District Council – a vote that’s expected once the initiative passes.