D.C. marijuana advocates defended their proposed ballot initiative before the D.C. Board of Elections Tuesday, disputing an opinion from the city's top lawyer that said legalizing possession of small amounts of the drug would violate federal law governing public housing facilities.
Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan has said he doesn't think the proposal is a proper subject for an initiative because he believes it would ban public housing facilities from stating in lease agreements that tenants can be evicted for drug-related criminal activity.
"There is nothing in the proposed initiative that would prevent that," said attorney Amanda La Forge, who represented the initiative sponsors. "D.C. would remain free to enforce the leases."
The initiative would make it legal to possess up to 2 ounces of marijuana and to grow up to six marijuana plants in one's home. If disputes arose between public housing authorities or private landlords and tenants about marijuana possession in a home, initiative sponsor Adam Eidinger said tenants would be able to take the matters to court.
While advocates say it might seem unfair that public housing residents would risk their housing if they were in possession of a drug that would be legalized under the initiative, they said the restrictions that limit the scope of the ballot initiative make it difficult to address all the potential issues.
"We're trying to change these laws so people aren't discriminated against. And we are so restricted by this initiative process, we can't put a complete bill to the voters," Mr. Eidinger said. "We can't say, 'Here is a place where you can buy this safely.' We can't say, 'This should be regulated in such a way' because that would spend money. So all we can say is that it's legal for the individual in the privacy of their own home to use minimal amounts of marijuana."
Laws governing the process say that initiatives may not appropriate city funds, violate the District's Home Rule Charter, negate a budget act or violate the Human Rights Act. The Board of Elections, which is tasked with making sure measures meet those guidelines, will now decide whether to approve the proposal. Activists would then have to collect 23,000 signatures from registered D.C. voters to get the measure on the November ballot.
Mr. Nathan in his objections highlighted a passages of the initiative that states "no district government agency or office shall limit or refuse to provide any facility service, program or benefit to any person" based on the legalization of marijuana.
The attorney general noted that the passage conflicts with the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, which "requires that public housing leases make 'drug-related criminal activity' on or off public housing premises a cause for terminating a public housing lease."
Upon hearing the objections to the proposal, sponsors initially thought they might try to change some wording, but later discovered they would have to undergo the entire approval process anew if they made any changes, Mr. Eidinger said.
Board members questioned supporters of the initiative about the scope of the proposal, including whether it would allow people the right to legally have marijuana in their vehicles and on their person in addition to in their home. Mr. Eidinger said that as long as the amount was under 2 ounces, it would be permissible to be in possession of the drug.
He also fielded questions about the amount of marijuana that someone might be able to grow under the six-plant-per-household rule.
"Even the best grower probably will not be able to produce more than 15 ounces in one year," he said.
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