- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 20, 2014

Thank you, Mr. Irvin B. Nathan.

There are a lot of folks both here in the nation’s capital and elsewhere in the country who are none too pleased with Mr. Nathan’s legal rendering on the D.C. marijuana initiative.

But, hey, no lawyer makes all the people happy all the time.

Besides, that’s not his job.

As the attorney general for the District of Columbia, Mr. Nathan wrote a clear-eyed letter to the D.C. Board of Elections that narrowly explains why the board should not approve a November ballot proposal to decriminalize.

Mr. Nathan says in his Feb. 19 letter to the board’s general counsel, Kenneth J. McGhie, that federal law trumps D.C. law.

The marijuana issue is another distraction.

The District has serious business in need of practical and undivided leadership — from hunger and homelessness to education and economic development to unfilled and disjointed civic needs.

If nobody and everybody walking around is high, sober ideas will never make it to the table.

Heck, folks won’t even be able to find the discussion table, considering this gnawing fact: The initiative would allow individuals to possess, purchase, use or transport up to 2 ounces of marijuana as their personal stash, and allow them to cultivate up to six plants, three of which can be mature.

Imagine the clouds of smoke in homes and businesses. Hotels. Dorms. The National Mall. Parks, including Lafayette Square, where the William Tecumseh Sherman Monument and protesters during the heady 1960s stood by, awaiting the words “pass the joint.” Public transportation areas, affordable housing complexes and public housing.

Wait. Public housing? Yes. Enter Mr. Nathan.

In his letter, Mr. Nathan spelled out his chief legal reasoning by saying that the initiative “would violate federal law because it conflicts with the Anti-Drug Abuse Act.”

“The Initiative is improper because its prohibition on denying any benefit based on conduct that it purports to make lawful is incompatible with at least one area of federal law involving District-provided benefits: federal public-housing law. It conflicts with the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, which (as amended) requires that public housing leases make ‘drug-related criminal activity’ on or off public-housing premises a cause for terminating a public-housing lease.”

That the city’s attorney general weighed in on pot decriminalization is no small matter.

The Justice Department essentially has said it’s taking a wait-and-see position now that a couple of states have moved on decriminalizing recreational use.

The timing of Mr. Nathan’s legal rendering is important because the D.C. Board of Elections is expected to rule next week on whether the wording of the ballot initiative is proper.

The Nathan decision doesn’t give the board much wiggle room, but it gives the pro-marijuana crowd a few more days to sober up and try to rewrite an initiative that passes legal muster.

The pot-legalization groupies should settle down because it’ll be a snap to get 23,000 people to approve a pro-pot initiative once one gets on a ballot.

Adam Eidinger said he and his initiative-sponsoring group, DCMJ, are working to see if the questionable wording in the initiative can be changed before the board’s hearing on Tuesday.

“It might just be a matter of four words that have to be changed,” Mr. Eidinger told reporter Andrea Noble. “I don’t want to lose our opportunity to collect signatures.”

The difficulty will come when local, federal and private law enforcers smell smoke and can’t determine who to question or where to investigate.

That is where we’re headed: A capital where even police throw up their hands and say, “Peace. Pass the joint.”

Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com

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