DC Voters Could Get to Vote on Marijuana Legalization in November

The District Board of Elections approves a ballot initiative, but activists are upset they still have to wait before collecting signatures.

By: Benjamin Freed

District residents could get a chance to determine if the nation’s capital will join Colorado and Washington state in legalizing marijuana through a proposed initiative that the DC Board of Elections approved to appear on November’s ballot if its supporters collect enough signatures.

Despite misgivings by Mayor Vince Gray and other top city officials that allowing adults to grow and possess marijuana would put the District in direct conflict with the federal government, the three-member board agreed to let pot reformers start collecting the 25,000 signatures needed to put their issue on the ballot. Under the initiative, DC residents 21 years and older could possess up to two ounces of pot and grow three marijuana plants in their homes.

But the petitioning can’t begin until the board holds a public meeting to approve the initiative’s title and summary statement, followed by a ten-day public comment period. The meeting needs to be held within 20 days, but Board of Elections spokeswoman Tamara Robinson says it has not been scheduled yet.

And while Adam Eidinger, a longtime marijuana activist and the initiative’s principal architect, says he should be glad that his ballot question survived tough opposition from DC Attorney General Irv Nathan, he is unhappy that he has to wait as much as an entire month before he can get to work. Eidinger hopes all the bureaucratic steps will be sorted out by April 1 so he can deploy as many as 50 canvassers to get the signatures of voters participating in that day’s Democratic mayoral primary, but acknowledges it might not pan out that way. 

“I am pretty pissed off the board made us wait,” he says. “April 1 is such a large opportunity for us.”

Eidinger submitted the ballot initiative for review on January 10. Since then, the DC Council has passed legislation removing criminal penalties for possession of less than one ounce of marijuana, with the expectation that Gray will sign it into law. But District voters overwhelmingly support full legalization, a January poll found.

Besides the 25,000-signature hurdle, Eidinger’s people must also collect the names of at least 5 percent of voters every one of the District’s eight wards to put the marijuana question on the ballot. They have until July 7 to gather signatures, making an April 1 kickoff that much more desirable.

“Now it’s not happening until mid-April—4/20, maybe,” Eidinger says.