According to a new poll, Washington, DC voters are heavily in favor of legal cannabis and against the efforts of authorities to crackdown on the practice of “gifting” marijuana that has taken hold given the absence of a regulated market.
The findings of the survey, commissioned by the I-71 Committee and carried out by the polling firm Brilliant Corners, reported 72 percent of voters support marijuana legalization and 66 percent back the implementation of the law that was approved in a ballot vote in 2014 to reform the District’s cannabis laws.
That ballot measure provided for legal marijuana possession, personal cultivation and the gifting of cannabis between adults 21 and older, but it did not allow for a system of legal recreational sales. This is down to a congressional spending bill rider approved annually that prohibits a regulated cannabis market from launching in Washington, DC. Legislative attempts to circumvent the rider through the District’s annual budget have so far failed to facilitate legal cannabis sales.
As a result, an unregulated market has emerged whereby businesses offer marijuana free of charge to customers when purchasing other goods and services.
Lawmakers and regulators have long expressed concerns at the practice, but it is only recently that a “Joint Cannabis Force” was established to carry out inspections of businesses suspected of going beyond what is legally permissible. These inspections were due to begin this month, but have been delayed without explanation.
Only 19 percent of respondents said local authorities should “shut down the gift economy marijuana market,” while 76 percent said the government should “reform current laws to create a more regulated market.”
DC voters were also asked their opinions on the potential consequences of a ‘gifting’ crackdown. Eighty-four percent felt marginalized racial communities would be at greater risk of criminalization, 70 percent shared concerns about the impact on small businesses, and 69 percent believed it would lead to an increase in gun violence.
A comfortable majority of 63 percent of voters said they would be against the Council’s efforts to put an end to the unregulated market, with a similar percentage saying they would be less likely to vote for a candidate in favor of such a move.
While voter sentiment in favor of legal cannabis and a regulated market is strong in Washington, DC, it is not a huge priority for many. When asked to rank the importance of 12 social issues, including gun violence and affordable housing, marijuana sales regulation ranked last.
However, Terrence White, I-71 Committee chairman, argues many of these issues are linked.
“The key takeaway here is this: If the D.C. Council shuts down i-71 stores, it will push the cannabis industry back to the streets,” he said in a press release. “That will lead to more gun violence centered around cannabis sales in our city and lead to an increase in the number of non-violent drug offenses interfacing with law enforcement.”
The poll took place in DC between September 6 and 12 with 610 likely voters and reports a margin of error of +/- 4 percentage points.