- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Marijuana legalization passed easily at the polls in the District on Tuesday, putting the city at the vanguard of a nationwide movement that also saw Oregon and Alaska approve pro-pot initiatives on Election Day.

Preliminary results show that with all 143 precincts reporting, 64.6 percent of voters favored the initiative against 28.4 percent who opposed.

Many D.C. voters who took to the polls Tuesday framed their support of the initiative in terms of social justice, saying they favored legalization because it would bring an end to arrests and discrimination against marijuana users, specifically young black men.

Retiree Thornton Cain, 64, voted for the initiative because he said he is tired of hearing from young men in his community that they can’t get jobs after being tied up in the criminal justice system over minor drug offenses.

“I don’t want to see young people going to jail for it,” said Mr. Cain, who cast his ballot at LaSalle-Backus Education Campus in Northeast.

Asked if he might consume legal marijuana, Mr. Cain chuckled.

“Not at my age not,” he said. “I have in my younger days, though.”

Initiative 71 would make it legal to possess up to 2 ounces of marijuana and for D.C. residents to grow up to six marijuana plants in their homes. The ballot measure does not set up a scheme by which marijuana could be bought and sold. Regulations and a taxation mechanism would likely be drafted by city officials — a process lawmakers have already begun.

The marijuana legalization movement picked up momentum in 2012, when voters in Colorado and Washington approved measures legalizing the drug.

Voters in Oregon passed a measure Tuesday that would allow adults 21 and older to possess 1 ounce in public and up to 8 ounces at home. The measure, which comes after a legalization effort failed in the state in 2012, takes effect July 1.

Alaska also passed a legalization measure, which will take effect 90 days after the election is certified — likely in late November. The victory came after that state rejected similar efforts in 2000 and 2004.

Both states plan to regulate and tax the sale of marijuana.

Florida voters rejected a constitutional amendment to authorize the use of medical marijuana. The question, which required 60 percent of the vote to pass, would have made Florida the first in the South to legalize medical marijuana. While a majority favored the program, the measure fell short of the threshold needed to move it forward.

In the District, the legalization vote comes after city officials implemented a medical marijuana program and passed a measure decriminalizing the drug over the summer.

Lawmakers noted the higher frequency at which blacks are arrested for marijuana possession than whites in the city. The D.C. Council passed laws making possession of small amounts of the drug a civil rather than criminal offense, meaning offenders would face a nominal fine rather than charges.

Emerald Christopher, 32, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Maryland and a part-time professor at Georgetown, said Tuesday that she supported going beyond decriminalization because the referendum effort gave voters a voice on the issue.

“I think it needs to be on the books beyond just the council and I think the people should speak on it,” she said, noting that she does not personally support use of the drug.

Scott Roberts, 54, said he didn’t have any strong feelings on the marijuana initiative, but decided in the end to support it.

“I think it’s a right that mature adults should have — emphasis on ‘mature,’ ” said Mr. Roberts, a teacher, after voting at LaSalle-Backus. “Don’t come into my classroom with it.”

Others opposed the initiative on the grounds that it didn’t go far enough.

“If we’re going to make revenue on it, they should legalize the selling of it, so I thought it was an incomplete measure,” said John Weaver, 41, a consultant who voted against the initiative at John Tyler Elementary in Southeast.

The District’s ballot initiative process does not allow any referendum effort to include provisions that would cost the city money, so activists could not include tax and regulation of the drug on the ballot measure.

But the fact the District could financially benefit from legalization has not been lost on city officials.

Estimates have put the net worth of the District’s potential marijuana market at $130 million.

But the District’s effort could face direct interference by Congress, which has oversight of city laws.

Rep. Andy Harris, Maryland Republican, tried to nullify the District’s decriminalization measure and has expressed similar interest in derailing the legalization effort if it is passed.

Mark Pace contributed to this report

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