- - Thursday, August 7, 2014

Washington’s corridors of power may soon reek of something more pungent than mendacity. D.C. voters will decide on Nov. 4 whether the nation’s capital will join several jurisdictions across American to legalize marijuana.

Unlike Colorado, where pot is now on supermarket shelves with corn flakes, corn meal and other groceries, the D.C. ballot initiative decriminalizes only possession. Each adult in a household may grow “three mature cannabis plants” for his own use and keep two ounces of weed in his pockets at a time, enough to roll a couple of dozen joints. Sharing reefer is allowed; buying and selling is not.

It’s odd that the hemp craze sweeps over a city that only a few years ago banished smoking. Lighting up a cigarette is considered the mark of a pariah. Such conduct is not allowed inside an office, a bar or tavern or in public buildings. Apart from a small ghetto out front, far from the entrance, it’s mostly not allowed outside, either.

When Rep. Nancy Pelosi, San Francisco Democrat, became speaker of the House, her first order of business was to prohibit nicotine in the Speaker’s Lobby off the House floor. Even chain-smoking John A. Boehner didn’t dare repeal the prohibition when he replaced her.

There are advantages in the proposal. Marijuana farming may give idle federal workers something to do on the job, tending window boxes. As our Jim McElhatton reports, a Federal Communications Commission worker said he was so bored he didn’t know what else to do but spend hours and hours on the job each week surfing porn websites. Treasury Department investigators found a worker who diligently inspected 13,000 pornographic images over the course of six weeks.

Anti-drug warriors don’t want to see Washington become the location for a Cheech and Chong movie, but zealotry must take some of the blame for this initiative, which is in part a backlash against the single-minded focus of certain prosecutors on going after low-level offenders.

Out of the 142,191 men and women arrested in Washington between 2009 and 2011, 96 percent were nonviolent offenders. The Washington Lawyers’ Committee says 1 of every 5 cases were about drugs, usually simple possession of marijuana, and the offender was almost always black.

It’s not like there’s a shortage of murder, rape, burglary or assault in the city. Most residents prefer cops to focus on dangerous felons instead of filling the jail with people trying to get high. This is, after all, the city with such a deep well of forgiveness that it restored Marion Barry to city hall after the man who thought he was mayor for life was caught on video smoking crack.

Dope aficionados are still not home free, as Congress may spike the results of the referendum. The House last month voted for language that Rep. Andy Harris of Maryland, a doctor and a Republican, introduced. “I took an oath to do no harm,” he says, “and decriminalizing marijuana will harm D.C. residents, especially teens.”

Since Congress has the final say on legislation for the District of Columbia, it can pull the plug on dope. If it does, we suggest that it add a rider to the legislation requiring the aldermen to take down their revenue cameras. The cameras cause accidents.