The D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics yesterday approved the language of a proposed initiative for a future election that would make it legal to use and cultivate marijuana in the city.

The board approval was the first of a number of steps necessary before the initiative could appear on a ballot.

Opponents of the proposal now have 10 days to object to the language. If there are no objections, the proposal can be published in the D.C. Register, after which proponents can begin collecting petitions to place the measure on the ballot. Supporters would need to collect within 180 days the signatures of about 16,000 of the city's 328,000 registered voters to get the initiative on an election ballot.

The initiative was submitted to the board by Viola James, a legal assistant who filed earlier this year as a Republican candidate for D.C. delegate to Congress, but did not collect enough signatures to win a place on the ballot.

In 1980, The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), an organization that supports the legalization of marijuana, tried to place a similar initiative on the ballot, but failed to get enough signatures, according to William Lewis, the board's legal counsel.