The marijuana voter initiative that is almost guaranteed to pass on November 4th is DC Initiative 71, the “Legalization of Possession of Minimal Amounts of Marijuana for Personal Use Act of 2014.” However, as we will discuss, it is far from certain when the provisions of this proposal will take effect.
Readers should first understand that the District of Columbia is not a state; rather it is a special district created in 1790 by Congress from land along the Potomac River, formerly part of the states of Maryland and Virginia, as the seat of our national government. In 1973 the Congress gave the District a limited form of local control, called the Home Rule Charter, which provides for an elected mayor and City Council, which have the authority to enact and enforce local laws. However, any legislation passed by the City Council is reviewable by the Congress, which has 60 legislative days (when Congress is actually in session) to review and amend or reject the proposed legislation. Those same limitations apply to voter initiatives enacted in the District. In addition, under the Home Rule Charter, voter initiatives may not mandate the expenditure of city funds.
That background is necessary to understand the limited nature of the legalization proposal currently on the ballot for DC voters.
What Initiative 71 Would Do
Initiative 71, sponsored by the DC Cannabis Campaign, would eliminate all criminal and civil penalties for adults, making it legal to:
possess up to two ounces of marijuana for personal use;
grow no more than six cannabis plants (with three or fewer being mature, flowering plants) within the person’s principal residence;
transfer without payment (but not sell) up to one ounce of marijuana to another person 21 years of age or older; and
use or sell drug paraphernalia for the use, growing or processing of marijuana or cannabis.
Initiative 71 does not attempt to establish legal marijuana dispensaries, as that would run afoul of the home rule prohibition on voter initiatives mandating the expenditure of city funds. And it does not protect marijuana smokers against job discrimination, nor alter the child custody issues pertaining to the use of marijuana or the DUID laws in the District.