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D.C. Council member David Grosso introduced a bill last year to legalize the possession and sale of marijuana, but the legislation has no co-sponsors and has not been scheduled for a hearing.

Mr. Grosso, at-large independent, said he intentionally did not seek any co-sponsors for the bill because he didn’t want to derail efforts underway to pass a bill to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. That bill, which 10 of 13 council members have co-sponsored, garnered broad support as lawmakers discussed the disproportionate impact drug arrests have on black youths in the city.

Sixteen states have decriminalized marijuana, according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. More, including Maryland, are expected to consider the issue during upcoming legislative sessions.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, this week said he was abandoning a bid to decriminalize the drug in the state but will pursue making the drug available for medical use.

Mr. Piper said an advantage to D.C. approval of a decriminalization bill first is that it would allow council members to spend more time vetting regulations for a legalization measure.

“I don’t think that the council is hesitant as much as it’s a complicated issue to set up a regulatory structure,” Mr. Piper said. “But if the council doesn’t act, the people probably will.”

Mr. Grosso applauds the grass-roots effort to get marijuana legalization on the ballot but said legislation through the D.C. Council could be more efficient.

“I think it’s great they want to put the money into that, but I’m more hopeful that we can get this done sooner than that,” he said.

He thinks his colleagues will have to be persuaded individually to support marijuana legalization. “I think we are up to seven or so people I can count on to pass legalization in the District,” he said.

Even if adopted by voters, the ballot initiative would have to withstand congressional scrutiny. The battle over access to medical marijuana, which Congress put on hold for more than a decade, is still fresh in the minds of marijuana advocates.

“It’s not likely that Congress would veto an initiative that we pass here,” said Dan Riffle, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project. “It is more likely that Congress would pass a rider that would obstruct the bill.”

D.C. voters supported a medical marijuana program in 1998, but a congressional rider known as the Barr Amendment delayed it until 2009. Rule-making and legislative process to govern the program delayed implementation another four years, with the first dispensaries opening last summer.

Some worry that a failed attempt at legalizing recreational marijuana use could do irreparable harm to the city’s medical marijuana program, which officials are still working to expand.

“The only concern you have is, if they take any steps to prevent legalization, that they would use language broad enough to prevent use of medical marijuana here,” said Mr. Riffle, whose group, along with the Drug Policy Alliance, sponsored the April PPP poll that was financed by Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps.

After a shift in the public’s attitude about marijuana usage and increased publicity for D.C. autonomy, Mr. Eidinger said, activists could seize on any congressional opposition as an opportunity.

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