Saturday, October 25, 2014

Legalizing Marijuana in Washington, DC

In ten days, disillusioned Americans will be privy to a low-turnout election, one that will showcase massive voter apathy. The ballot in the District of Columbia will elect a new mayor, retain and replace city council members, and elect shadow representatives who would take power immediately upon the passage of DC statehood. Turnout here is likely to be as light as in many polling precincts in the country.

One portion of the ballot has created some buzz in the city, at least, if not in the country. Initiative 71, if enacted, which is likely, would further decriminalize marijuana. DC's proposed initiative would not go as far as Colorado's, because it does not legalize dealing, establish places to purchase the drug, or set out the means to accumulate a stockpile of pot with the intent to distribute. The major rationale for passing the ordinance would be to prevent youth of color from being jailed for minor offenses.

This initiative, if passed, will make it lawful under District of Columbia law for a person 21 years of age or older to:

possess up to two ounces of marijuana for personal use;
grow no more than six cannabis plants with 3 or fewer being mature, flowering plants, within the person’s principal residence;
transfer without payment (but not sell) up to one ounce of marijuana to another person 21 years of age or older; and
use or sell drug paraphernalia for the use, growing, or processing of marijuana or cannabis.

Being that growing one's own marijuana would be the only legal way to obtain it, many DC residents will no doubt try their hand. Those who grow pot illegally recognize that marijuana can be a fussy crop needing lots of care and attention. The average citizen may find himself or herself quickly frustrated. Marijuana is not a house plant, though for a time I predict it will grace the window sills of many apartments and houses.

Opinion polls have showed the measure sailing through into enactment without much difficulty. Being that the District of Columbia is under the ultimate authority of the U.S. Congress, some speculation holds that Congress will strike down the law. Whether it does or not is unclear. Initiative 71 does invalidate federal drug policy, by strict definition, but Congress is wary of seeming high-handed in city politics.

A poll in January of this year showed a clear majority for legalization/decriminalization. 63% approve, while only 34% oppose. One wonders if the next legislative step, whenever that might be, would fully legalize marijuana. I myself will vote Yes, even though I have not used pot for recreational purposes in ten years. I don't imagine I will resume my earlier practice for the rest of my life, as it is associated in my mind with being a teenager and, following that, being a college student.

Obtaining the drug legally, under the current language, will be a pain and it provides only hollow consolation. It would still be possible to be arrested for purchasing marijuana from someone else, or making overtures to an undercover cop. One expects that the police might be inclined to turn their head and focus on other business when it comes to the sale and purchase of marijuana. Indeed, in my own life, being assigned a low-priority by law enforcement is the only way I likely escaped being arrested on several occasions for simple possession.

Cannabis was integral to the counterculture of the Sixties, and like many children of baby boomer parents, few of us see much wrong with the practice. One of my few reservations is a concern over the tar inhaled by the smoker, which vastly exceeds that of tobacco. Other, healthier ways of consuming cannabis exist, but this country must first be willing to acknowledge the extent of the hypocrisy of its drug policy. It goes much deeper than this so-called gateway drug.

I agree that young black men are bait for an overzealous prison system, but this argument has always appeared like a half-measure. I would like to believe that fewer drug convictions would unclog the wheels of justice and remove the log-jam, but the cynical side of me questions whether one single ballot initiative can make even a dent. Progress will come slowly to many states and regions and the scourge of racism combined with drug policy is a complicated one.

1 comment:

Karlo said...

My guess is that if it is legalized (or, more strictly speaking, semi-legalized) that police will stop worrying about it altogether. That seems to be the pattern in Washington state.