Reason: DC City Council Wants to Decriminalize Marijuana For “Social Justice,” Not Interested in Legalizing, May Be on the Ballot Anyway

By Ed Krayewski | Sep. 5, 2013 1:43 pm

The city council in Washington, DC is considering a bill, cosponsored by a majority of the council, that would decriminalize the possession of marijuana up to an ounce, making it a “civil offense” resulting in a fine, according to the local NBC affiliate. The primary sponsor of the bill, Tommy Wells, says the bill is a matter of “social justice,” and that he’s not concerned with the legal status of marijuana insomuch as he’s concerned about the 6,000 people, predominantly African-American, that are arrested for “using small amounts of marijuana.”

Activists are pressing for full legalization, pointing out that decriminalization will just cause the black market to expand even more, since everything that makes the possession of a small amount of marijuana possible remains illegal. But Councilman Wells says he doesn’t “believe growing marijuana in your home is really an issue of social justice… I’m not sure that our city is ready to do that.” Wells is right, growing marijuana in your own home is not a “social justice” issue. It’s an issue of rights and freedoms.

Wells’ frankly half-assed attempt at liberalizing the legal regime surrounding marijuana isn’t likely to even meet the narrow goal Wells set out. 91 percent of marijuana arrests in DC may be of black residents, but plenty of Beltway professionals use pot too. They just don’t need decriminalization to stay off the radar of local law enforcement, which largely targets black residents in its drug war efforts (similar tactics are seen in New York City, where whites are more likely to use marijuana but non-whites are more likely to be arrested for it). Wells’ effort isn’t going to make it less likely local law enforcement continues to target predominantly young black men for possession of marijuana. As criminal attorney Paul Zukerberg pointed out to NBC Washington: “Any amount of marijuana, even a roach, a partially burnt marijuana cigarette, is a criminal misdemeanor… Means you get arrested, your name is entered into the national criminal database, you have to go to court, hire a lawyer, and you face jail time. These are things that are permanently on your record… when you’re looking to get a job.”

While Wells’ bill is expected to pass and become law sometime in 2014, activists are working on a measure that would see DC residents vote on legalization in the November 2014 election. “People don’t want to be harassed anymore,” one activist, Adam Eidinger of DCMJ 2014, told NBC Washington. “People want rights.” And whatever pretension to “social justice” the DC city council may have is no replacement for that.

Source: Reason

NBC Washington: Activists to Submit New Marijuana Legalization Proposal

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By Mark Segraves | Wednesday, Sep 4, 2013 | Updated 7:20 PM EDT

While the D.C. Council considers decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana, a group of activists wants to legalize it and they want D.C. voters to decide.

The majority of D.C. councilmembers have signed on to a bill that would make having less than an ounce of marijuana a civil offense that results in a fine — like a speeding ticket — but some activists say that’s not enough. They want to be able to grow their own pot, and they don’t want police to have any authority over it.

“People don’t want to be harassed anymore,” said Adam Eidinger, of DCMJ 2014. “People want rights.”

Supporters of legalizing marijuana appeared before the D.C. Board of Elections Wednesday to get legalization on the November 2014 ballot for voters to decide.

D.C. Councilmember Tommy Wells, who wrote the decriminalization legislation, said his bill isn’t as much about pot as it is the 6,000 people who are getting arrested for it each year.

“About 90 percent of those that are arrested in the District of Columbia for using small amounts of marijuana are African-American,” he said. “We have an issue of social justice and also an issue of overuse of our courts, overuse of our whole justice system and police.”

Decriminalizing pot will lead to confusion, Eidinger said.

“People think it’s legal, though it’s not, and the black market is just going to keep having more customers, I think, because no one is growing it for themselves, and growing it will still be an arrest-able offense,” he said.

He’s concerned the legislation the council is considering will open the door to police harassing young people at concerts and other events.

“I don’t believe growing marijuana in your home is really an issue of social justice, that’s more about legalizing the substance, and I’m not sure that our city is ready to do that,” Wells said.

“Any amount of marijuana, even a roach, a partially burnt marijuana cigarette, is a criminal misdemeanor,” criminal defense attorney Paul Zukerberg said. “Means you get arrested, your name is entered into the national criminal database, you have to go to court, hire a lawyer, and you face jail time. These are things that are permanently on your record so when you’re looking to get a job.”

“It’s a barrier to getting jobs,” Wells said. “Sometimes it’s a barrier to housing, a barrier to getting student loans.”

DCMJ proposed making possession of less than two ounces or growing up to three plants civil rather than criminal offenses, punishable by fines up to $100 assessed by alcohol regulation authorities, prohibiting police from arresting or detaining those in violation in most circumstances.

Attorney General Irv Nathan found a provision requiring offenders under the age of 18 to attend a drug awareness program violates a city restriction preventing ballot items from appropriating taxpayer funds, The Washington Post reported. He also said adding marijuana offenders to the groups protected by D.C.’s Human Rights Act could be a financial liability for the city and possession would remain illegal under federal law and he is unaware of a statute allowing the council to prevent police from arresting individuals in violation of federal law.

So DCMJ pulled the proposal and will submit a new one, possibly this week, Eidinger said.

The bill to decriminalize marijuana is expected to pass the council later this year and could be law by early 2014 – about the same time voters could be asked if smoking pot should be legal in the nation’s capital.

Source: NBC Washington

Washingtonian: Pro-Marijuana Activists Prepare Ballot Referendum to Legalize It in DC

Pro-Marijuana Activists Prepare Ballot Referendum to Legalize It in DC

The DC Council is set to begin debating marijuana decriminalization, but some advocates want the city to go all the way and make it legal to grow and smoke.

By Benjamin Freed, Washingtonian

A proposed ballot referendum that would have sought to decriminalize the possession and use of small amounts of marijuana in DC is off the table, but one of the lead organizers behind it says that’s just fine, because he plans to replace it with one that calls for legalization.

Adam Eidinger, a pro-pot activist who ran the now-shuttered Capitol Hemp stores, withdrew his decriminalization referendum today at a meeting of DC’s Board of Elections. He pulled it following a letter from DC Attorney General Irv Nathan, who wrote up several objections to the ballot initiative. But Eidinger says that Nathan’s objections were more procedural than political, and that in a few weeks’ time, he’ll submit a new referendum that calls for legalizing weed. Decriminalization, he says, was more of a test bubble.

Chiefly, Eidinger says, his original referendum raised an issue in calling for the creation of a drug awareness program to ward off underage residents from getting high. Under DC law, ballot referendums must be revenue-neutral, meaning that they cannot demand the DC Council create and fund any new programs. Despite the noble intention, though, Eidinger says that’s not a deal breaker.

“You can’t write a law that’s going to cost the taxpayers money,” he says. “We can reach our goals without that in there. But our top priority wasn’t to create that program, it was to make the voters feel more comfortable.”

Eidinger says his legalization referendum will still define to whom it would apply. The next initiative will spell out several specific rules about marijuana use, including:

  • Restricting use by people under 21
  • Allowing adults to carry up to two ounces
  • Permitting home cultivation—which Eidinger equates with people who brew their own beer—of up to six plants

Eidinger is especially passionate about that last bit, saying that that a prohibition on people growing their own weed opens up the landscape for a “monopoly.”

“People who grow their own cannabis are patriots,” he says. “They don’t give their money to terrorist organizations or international drug cartels. There’s no money going to a drug dealer.”

A legalization referendum would also go much further than a piece of legislation the DC Council is about to take up. Council member Tommy Wells, who is also running for mayor, plans to introduce a decriminalization bill this fall along with Marion Barry. Under Wells and Barry’s bill, which has at least six co-sponsors—more than enough to pass—marijuana possession would be reduced from a criminal offense to one meriting just a ticket with a fine.

Eidinger says simple decriminalization would only encourage police to write flurries of tickets. He envisions “raids” in which officers inspect bars and nightclubs to see which patrons are holding and issue a thick pad of fines. Under current law, people caught with pot are arrested and booked, a greater drain on police resources.

“It’s going to become a shakedown law,” Eidinger says.

But marijuana arrests are on the rise in DC anyway, according to Metropolitan Police Department figures obtained earlier this year by Paul Zukerberg, a defense attorney who ran for a DC Council seat on a pro-legalization platform. In 2011, the statistics read, MPD made 5,759 marijuana-related busts. And the American Civil Liberties Union found that in 2010, DC police arrested black individuals for marijuana-related offenses 8.05 times as often as white people.

Wells, though, is not convinced that his bill would lead to a wider regime of weed fines. “What I’m doing is decriminalizing the behavior so that we don’t have so many young men getting in trouble,” he says. “Mine is more about social justice. [Eidinger’s] is more about treating the substance as a legal substance. That’s not a social justice issue, that’s about getting a new product into the mainstream that’ll get you high.”

The DC decriminalization bill is modeled a Massachusetts law that went into effect in 2009. Last week, the US Justice Department, which still classifies marijuana as a dangerous illegal substance, said it will not interfere with state and local laws that decriminalize or legalize pot for either medicinal or recreational purposes. The move was a reassurance to DC’s burgeoning medical marijuana field.

Wells and Barry will hold their first public hearing on their decriminalization bill in early October. Meanwhile, Eidinger says he is furiously gathering volunteers—many of them exiting DC Superior Court following marijuana offense hearings—to gather signatures for the final draft of his referendum. He aims to get it on next year’s general election ballot.

Source: Washingtonian