An initiative to give District voters the opportunity to approve legalization of the possession and cultivation of marijuana for personal use may appear on the November ballot.
The Committee for the D.C. Marijuana Initative (DCMI), a local organization, currently is collecting the signatures needed to put the proposal to a vote. DCMI chairman George L. Farnham, a Washington attorney, says the group collected about 5,000 signatures during the recent primary election, and expects to submit more than 20,000 valid signatures to the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics by June 22. The board requires 12,241 signatures by the official July 7 deadline.
Farnham said that the committee, while using the M Street offices and telephone lines of the National Organization for the reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), is funded through private contributions and has received no additional assistance from NORML, which is the national lobbying group working for marijuana law reform.
He added that the principal source of DCMI monies was a fund-raiser held last fall at the Golden Booeymonger restaurant in Dupont Circle. The event netted $11,500.
The proposed initiative differs from decriminalization legislation which was vetoes in 1977 by former mayor Walter E. Washington and initially sponsored by City Councilman David A. Clarke (D-Ward 1). That law would have provided decreased penalties (a $100 fine and a citation much like a traffic ticket) for possession of an ounce or less of the substance, and contained no provisions for those wishing to grow their own. The DCMI plan would make both the possession and cultivation of unspecified amounts for personal use legal for adults over the age of 18.
Penalties for selling the drug and for driving while under its influence -- a $100 to $1,000 fine and/or up to one year in jail -- would remain unchanged.
Farnham says he is certain there will be some opposition to the measure, but feels support for legalization is widespread in Washington, particularly in wards 1 and 2, heavily black and Hispanic areas where many of the city's marijuana-related arrests are made.
DCMI is concentrating its petition drive in those areas, plus with wards 3, 4, 6 and 8, where Farnham said he knows there is support.
Calling that action an "unfair attempt to prey on those people already inclined to take the downward road," the Rev. Andrew Fowler, executive secretary of the Committee of 100 Ministers, the group that was a leading opponent of the recent gambling initiatives, vowed to "do everything in my power to defeat it."
Fowler added that the Committee of 100 met last week to reaffirm their past stance against any change in local laws regarding the use of marijuana.
"We have carefully studied the available medical research," he said, "and we are convinced that marijuana is detrimental to both the mind and body."
Commenting on Farnham's statement that there is strong support for the initiative in predominantly black areas, Fowler said, "I'm sure that there are many who do support it -- especially among those he [Farnham] talked to.But he may be surprised to learn that there are a good many fine people of all races in this town who are not going to go along with this."