- - Monday, October 20, 2014

At a recent community forum on marijuana legalization hosted by the JOBS Coalition, the consensus of a panel of experts representing law enforcement, drug policy, and health and wellness organizations was that ballot measure 71 is going to be voter approved and that stakeholders should gird themselves for a legislative and enforcement battle that will pit the lack luster and indecisive D.C. Council against Congress.

This is the council that will turn over more than a third of its seats as two sitting members vie to be the next mayor and sat on critical legislative implementation such as the ballot initiative to elect the attorney general until they were successfully sued.

On page 55 of the D.C. Voter’s Guide that was distributed last week by the Board of Elections is information on “Initiative Measure #71, Legalization of Possession of Minimal Amounts of Marijuana for Personal Use Act of 2014.” The summary statement says if passed it will be unlawful for a person under 21 to: 1) possess up to 2 ounces for marijuana personal use; 2) grow more than six plants within a personal residence; 3) transfer without payment up to one ounce to another person over 21; and 4) use or sell drug paraphernalia for the use, growing or processing of marijuana.

The forum on marijuana was hosted by Rev. Stephen Tucker, president of the JOBS Coalition, and it was held at Michigan Park Christian Church in Northeast, where only representatives from the law enforcement and health care communities seemed to support legalization.

Rev. Tucker and the Wednesday Clergy Leadership Group are very concerned support for marijuana legalized is a spiritual assault on the minds and souls of young black folks. They also see the devastating impact and increased demand for social services landing in the laps of the faith communities as the scourge of medical and legal marijuana widens.

Opponents say the push for legalization is funded by outside business interests that want to see this multibillion industry gain a foothold in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol.

Ambrose Lane Jr., founder of the Ward 7 Health Alliance Network, pointed out that much of Northwest Washington, including Rock Creek and surrounds, isn’t covered with pro-marijuana posters, while mostly black neighborhoods in Wards 7 and 8 are flooded with bright red posters. Along the 16th Street NW corridor from Adams Morgan to the Silver Spring, Maryland, border, only one pro-marijuana poster on a rainy Wednesday three weeks before the November election.

Another opponent of legalizing marijuana, Two is Enough D.C. founder Will Jones III, said, “National drug industry interests out of Colorado and Washington State want a new industry and Washington, D.C., is ground zero in expanding their national footprint to the doorsteps of Congress.”

“It will pass and we should be active and focused on the process of structuring the law,” said Vanessa West of the Metropolitan Wellness Network.

And Matthew Fogg, national vice president of the Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), network of active and retired federal marshals and police officials agreed.

“Prohibition does not work,” said Mr. Fogg, retired deputy chief of the U.S. Marshals. “It is not a law enforcement issue – it’s a medical issue, and LEAP takes the position that it is a waste of police energy and public resources to enforce minor drug possession cases.”

Not only was the faith community concerned about the potential negative impact of marijuana legalization, but one of the largest construction industry employers, Miller & Long, was concerned about the impact on the workforce.

Miller & Long Chairman John M. McMahon made an impassioned statement about the devastating effects and attendant costs that illegal drug use has had on his workforce. “We spend up to $800 to pre-screen and do background checks on potential employees, and this law will only make our recruitment efforts harder,” Mr. McMahon said.

Eric J. Jones, who lives in Northeast and attended the forum, said legalization of marijuana could mean history repeats itself. In the 1980s and ‘90s, pop smokers were lacing marijuana with PCP. Today, Mr. Jones cited the so-called “Dipper” subculture, which saturates marijuana in formaldehyde and other synthetic substances known as “Spice” on the street to boost the high for their users.

Vanessa West of the Metropolitan Wellness Center sited the potential benefits of legalized marijuana, which included consistent quality, knowledgeable customer service advisers that are available to train users on its use, and quality product control.

A heated debate ensued between Ms. West and Mr. Lane over these questionable benefits.

“I don’t have a crystal ball, but the pending passage of [Measure] 71 should give us pause,” Mr. Lane said. “There is no evidence on the national level that supports the impact of marijuana legalization on poor black urban communities.”

Ms. West countered that “We need to prepare for a three-pronged response to the passage of Prop 71. First, the D.C. Council will have to enact legislative standards to implement the law. Then, the executive branch and new mayor will decide on its enforcement. And third, Congress will likely challenge its standing.”

Election Day is Nov. 4.

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