D.C. residents will vote on legalizing the recreational use and possession of marijuana when they head to the polls in November.
The D.C. Board of Elections voted unanimously Wednesday to allow the ballot initiative to go before voters.
If approved, Initiative 71 would allow an adult over the age of 21 to possess up to 2 ounces of marijuana and to grow up to six plants in his or her home. However, it would not legalize the sale of marijuana.
The board determined that 27,688 of the 57,000 petition signatures submitted by activists for the initiative were valid. Supporters were required to collect 22,500 valid signatures, representing at least 5 percent of registered voters in at least five of the city’s eight wards, to qualify for the ballot, according to the D.C. Board of Elections.
“It is clear from the number of signatures the campaign was able to submit that the citizens of the District would like to have a say in reforming the marijuana laws of the District,” said Malik Burnett, D.C. policy manager for Drug Policy Action.
This year, the District removed criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana. Lawmakers cited the disproportionate rate at which blacks were being arrested for marijuana use compared to whites as a reason for decriminalization.
An study by the American Civil Liberties Union found that in 2010, 91 percent of those arrested for marijuana use were black, despite evidence that blacks and whites use marijuana at similar rates.
“It is great that we have decriminalized marijuana in the District of Columbia,” said Adam Eidinger, chairman of DC Cannabis Campaign. “Unfortunately, if we are going replace arrests with tickets, discrimination will continue, but voting ‘yes’ on 71 eliminates the tickets and brings discrimination to an end.”
Residents in Alaska and Oregon also are expected to vote on legalization initiatives this year. Recreational pot use is currently legal in Washington state and Colorado.
Even if District residents approve the referendum effort, the initiative may face further scrutiny.
Republican members of Congress have attacked both the District’s decriminalization and legalization efforts. Rep. Andy Harris of Maryland tried to block the city’s decriminalization law from taking effect by adding an amendment to a spending bill that would have prevented the District from spending money on efforts to loosen drug laws.
Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat and the District’s nonvoting congressional representative, said Wednesday she intends to fight any further efforts to prevent the District from voting on the initiative.
She noted that Congress in 1998 attempted to block District residents from voting on an initiative to legalize the use of medical marijuana. The ballot measure was passed, but Congress, using a budget rider, blocked the start of the District’s medical marijuana program for more than a decade.
“We will not let history repeat itself,” Ms. Norton said.