Who will have the biggest party on election night in Washington, D.C.?
Republicans may win control of the Senate for the remainder of President Obama’s term, but legalized marijuana seems destined to produce a haze of euphoria across the nation’s capital that will be hard to top.
But please, say advocates for legalization, don’t celebrate Tuesday night by lighting up outside the White House or any other spot that could produce a made-for-cable-news spectacle — and, for that matter, still get you arrested.
“We’re not going to do it on the street, I will be upset if I see people smoking weed on the streets,” said Adam Eidinger, a longtime supporter of marijuana legalization in the District who helped lead the effort to get the legalization measure, known as Initiative 71, on the ballot.
Under the measure, the District is poised to follow Colorado and Washington state into the closely watched experiment to legalize marijuana.
Initiative 71 would allow people 21 and older to possess as much as two ounces of marijuana for personal use and to grow up to three marijuana plants at home.
Polls in recent months showed D.C. voters backing the measure by a margin of almost 2-to-1. Early voting appeared to follow suit, with 64 percent in favor of legalization among the first 25,746 votes cast.
If it passes, a majority of the D.C. Council has vowed to also take up legislation early next year that would establish a system to sell and tax marijuana, similar to regulatory schemes now in place in Colorado and Washington.
Initiative 71, as well as any legislation that goes further and allows for legal sale, would face congressional review, and at least one House Republican has already pledged to fight implementation.
Voters in Oregon and Alaska will also take up legalization measures on Tuesday, but polling in those states suggests the contests will be closer. Florida voters are also expected to legalize medical marijuana.
The District decriminalized marijuana over this past summer, setting the penalty for possession at just $25, lower than most city parking tickets. Public consumption remains a misdemeanor, with penalties akin to getting caught with an open container of alcohol, which can draw a sentence of up to 60 days in jail.
According to statistics published Monday by WAMU-88.5, in the four months since decriminalization took effect, D.C. police have issued 186 tickets for marijuana possession. There have also been 38 arrests in that time for possession with intent to distribute. Most of those tickets and arrests were in the city’s poorest wards east of the Anacostia River, highlighting one argument in favor of Initiative 71 that has proved particularly powerful with African American voters, which make up half of the District’s voters.
The legalization effort in the District has been cast by supporters as a civil rights issue after a series of studies have shown a wide disparity in arrest rates between blacks and whites, even as surveys show use varies little by race.
In the last four years, black voters were once among the least likely to support legalization, citing worries of increased substance abuse by youths, have tipped in favor with 56 percent supporting Initiative 71.
An influx of young, affluent residents in the District has further built support.