Loose Lips

A Frenemy With Weed

LL-1

In a town where even the crunchiest causes have suited-up lobbyists behind them, Adam Eidinger, one of the District’s top marijuana activists, matches his ideals refreshingly well. He sports a military surplus jacket, orange glasses, and a thin, vaguely pharaonic goatee. Eidinger, the former owner of a hemp shop, speaks glowingly about a Washington state concert where the band threw joints to audience members.

At breakfast last week with reporters in Adams Morgan, Eidinger explains how he’s convinced President Barack Obama will legalize the drug by the end of his second term, then light up with House Speaker John Boehner.

“They smoke cigars all the time, and it’s classy,” Eidinger says. Why not a joint too? After breakfast, he invites LL to a weed conference of his own (LL begged off).

Eidinger, the head of local pot advocacy group DCMJ 2014, would make the ideal supporter for Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells’ bill to decriminalize marijuana. Except, as it turns out, he hates it.

“Fuck him,” Eidinger says of the mayoral hopeful.

Wells’ bill to replace criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana with a $100 fine proved popular when he introduced it to the D.C. Council in July, garnering nine other co-sponsors or co-introducers. With more than two-thirds of the Council on his side, Wells’ bill is practically guaranteed passage. But while it’s been a surprisingly uncontroversial success for advocates of decriminalization, it’s also exposed a rift between them and a more radical wing of activists like Eidinger, who want the District to legalize the drug entirely.

The conflict is set to play out over a pot-heavy few months for District politics. On Monday, Ward 7 Councilmember Yvette Alexander’s health committee held a hearing on the District’s medical marijuana program, with several witnesses calling for an expansion of the number of illnesses that qualify for it. Also this week, Wells’ judiciary committee was set to hold hearings on his bill on Wednesday and Thursday, including one in Anacostia. (DCMJ is prepping witnesses to promote legalization at the hearings instead.)

Towards the end of the year, Eidinger and his cohort will decide whether they want to proceed with a November 2014 ballot initiative to legalize pot possession and growing small amounts of marijuana. Unless the Council looks ready to pass its own legalization bill, Eidinger says they’ll go through with it.

The dueling bills and initiatives are the culmination of a year that started with the release of a series of reports demonstrating how enforcement of pot laws is slanted against D.C.’s poor African-American residents. At the same time, a poll released ahead of the April at-large race, organized by DCMJ and the Drug Policy Alliance, revealed that District voters were receptive to decriminalization.

If the data created the atmosphere for Wells’ bill, though, legalization advocates fear that it could replicate the same ugly circumstances it was meant to quash. Legalization advocates say their plan would take marijuana out of more dangerous street deals, something Wells’ bill can’t accomplish. Besides, they say, $100 tickets aren’t as disruptive as jail time or as damaging to a career as a conviction, but what’s to stop law enforcement from levying fines just as disproportionately in poorer parts of the District?

“The people that are most likely to receive those tickets will continue to be in those neighborhoods, because that’s where police are focused,” says Grant Smith, a policy manager at the Drug Policy Alliance.

Wells says he introduced his decriminalization bill to relieve the immediate effects of the drug war, but he thinks the legalization issue should be put up to the entire city. As for his own vote in a potential ballot initiative, Well tells LL he’d vote to make the drug legal.

Last month, the DCMJ and like-minded groups, including the Drug Policy Alliance and the District’s branch of the NAACP, sent Wells a letter asking him to amend his bill. Among their requests: dropping the fine for possession, legalizing personal growth of three plants or fewer, and expunging previous marijuana possession records.

“Given that poor residents reside in neighborhoods saturated with a police presence, it is poor residents who will likely be disproportionately issued $100 citations for the possession of the marijuana,” the letter reads.

Will their request that Wells turn his decriminalization plan into some sort of quasi-legalization bill work? Well, consider the fate of Councilmember David Grosso’s own legalization bill, which failed to garner a single other backer on the Council when he introduced it in September.

You can thank Congress for that. District politicos were happy to thumb their noses at the feds during the government shutdown (and, in Mayor Vince Gray’s case, crash their press conferences), but when it comes to pot, they’re more reticent. The same legalization that’s so far been tacitly accepted in Colorado and Washington state, councilmembers fear, could provoke an unpredictable reaction from the Hill.

“If Congress didn’t have a thumb over D.C., we’d be pushing for [legalization] right now,” says Dan Riffle, an attorney with the Marijuana Policy Project, which didn’t sign the September letter to Wells.

There’s also a personal angle to the legalization side’s complaints about decriminalization. Eidinger claims that Wells’ staff took his suggestions, only to give advocates too little time to look at the bill before it was introduced. (LL points out this is a common claim from stakeholders on much less controversial bills, too.) Donnie Williams, one of DCMJ’s petitioners, thinks Wells’ bill was backed by some councilmembers who want to use it to take energy away from making the drug legal. “I really think this is being staged to work against legalization,” he says.

It’s tough talk from a group that, until Wells’ bill, was barely part of the political discussion at all. But the legalization crowd can afford to alienate potential allies on pot because there isn’t much opposition to loosening the laws at least a little bit. Trust LL, who initially wanted to write about the District’s pot prohibitionists for this issue, but was unable to find many possible subjects.

Alexander, the only councilmember to vocally oppose decriminalization, has explained her position by saying she thinks what’s against the law should stay that way. It’s a hard slogan to build a movement around.

Without opposition pushing the status quo, then, Eidinger and his cohort can pressure decriminalization advocates. “I’m sick of this Council treating me like shit and treating me like a criminal,” he says.

Even the legalization cohort, though, doesn’t want everything marijuana-related legalized. Eidinger wants any eventual marijuana law to ban home production powered by a particularly fire-prone brand of growing lamps. (Safety first.) The ballot initiative would only allow three mature plants and three seedlings. After a suggestion from the public, the group plans to change to make that limit apply per residence instead of per person—sorry, frat houses.

While the marijuana movement’s malcontents are loud, their effect on the District’s next election might not be. If they want to make an endorsement, they’ll be hard-pressed to find a more pot-friendly mayoral candidate than Wells or fellow decriminalization supporter Jack Evans; Grosso’s not running for higher office, and mayoral candidate Muriel Bowser didn’t even back the decriminalization bill.

And ultimately, even Eidinger seems to be trying to be more diplomatic about Wells. Just minutes after his expletive-heavy denunciation of the would-be mayor, Eidinger says he’s thinking about donating to his campaign. CP

Got a tip for LL? Send suggestions to lips@washingtoncitypaper.com Or call (202) 650-6925.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery

  • Mario

    well done city paper. a decent rundown of the issues about weed. and the best part? no inane articles by aaron weiner!!! so i know it's pretty damn factual.

  • Nakita

    what about the majority of DC residents who don't support criminalization? We don't attend hearings at the Council because we have day jobs. We have kids in school, and we don't want our own kids being exposed to casual recreational marijuana use?

    Wells and Eidinger don't represent us. But they're both good at getting media attention.

    There are a lot of us out there who think pot is a gate-way drug.

  • Brian Kelly

    The "War on Marijuana" has been a complete and utter failure. It is the largest component of the broader yet equally unsuccessful "War on Drugs" that has cost our country over a trillion dollars.

    Instead of The United States wasting Billions upon Billions of more dollars fighting a never ending "War on Marijuana", lets generate Billions of dollars, and improve the deficit instead. It's a no brainer.

    The Prohibition of Marijuana has also ruined the lives of many of our loved ones. In numbers greater than any other nation, our loved ones are being sent to jail and are being given permanent criminal records which ruin their chances of employment for the rest of their lives, and for what reason?

    Marijuana is way safer, and healthier to consume than alcohol. Yet do we lock people up for choosing to drink?

    Marijuana is the safest and healthiest recreational substance known to man, with many wonderful medical benefits as well.

    Even The President of the United States himself has used marijuana. Has it hurt his chances at succeeding in life? If he had gotten caught by the police during his college years, he may have very well still been in jail today! Beyond that, he would then be fortunate to even be able to find a minimum wage job that would consider hiring him with a permanent criminal record. Let's end this hypocrisy now!

    The government should never attempt to legislate morality by creating victim-less "crimes" because it simply does not work and costs the taxpayers a fortune.

    Marijuana Legalization Nationwide is an inevitable reality that's approaching much sooner than prohibitionists think and there is nothing they can do to stop it!

    Legalize Nationwide! Support Each and Every Marijuana Legalization Initiative!

  • mike

    “I’m sick of this Council treating me like shit"

    But you are a piece of shit, Adam.

  • Silly Opinions

    Nakita - while you may be among those people "out there who think pot is a gate-way drug," you'd be largely incorrect. This idea - a cherished rhetorical idea from drug warriors - has been so thoroughly debunked that only the most foolish and ignorant still believe it.

    As to having school-aged kids you don't want "exposed to casual recreational marijuana use?" Well, if we have similar laws for Cannibas and alcohol, that's no more or less a problem than having your kids exposed to recreational or even chemically-dependent alcohol users. Ignoring for a moment the objective reality that alcohol is one of the most dangerous drugs on Earth, laws are already in place to minimize children's exposure to alcohol consumption. If we have open carry laws, why would we not have similar laws for Cannibas, e.g. not smoking it while driving, or walking down the street, or in parks, etc.?

  • drez

    @Silly opinions:
    The smell of Marihuana smoke can easily carry from one row house front porch or back yard to another. That's a major difference between it and alcohol.
    Not trying to minimize alcohol's deleterious effects on society or even really wanting to compare pot with alcohol. I just don't want to smell pot- or my children to smell pot- as a regular thing as we go about our daily business.
    It's a drug.

  • http://dcmj.org Adam Eidinger

    I love how the City Paper seizes sensational statements I've made time and again. However, the shocking statement in the article about Well's needs to be clarified. To attack Well's who is a very decent human being, (especially for a politician) was never intended in my "Fuck him," comment. When meeting Loose Lips I was simply referring to the language of his decrim bill currently before the public. The attitude is that bill shouldn't be static in content. DCMJ.org is only fighting for meaningful change, not riding a fence and the City Paper did a very good job of noting this distinction

    Lets lead and do this right is what we are saying to Wells. Stop pretending a ban on cannabis serves any social benefit. Mike, I hear you, you're entitled to be a jerk-wad and not recognize I'm fighting to change a law that is long over due for changing by everyone's account. Why hasn't it changed until now? By all means please speak up and do media interviews, fuck, I wish there ten more of me, just like me ready to go to battle with these racist laws everyday. This is not my movement though, it's everyones. I encourage everyone to create publicity and by all means engage your government independently or with me. So hater's keep hating because you ain't done shit up til now. Get off you're bar stool and do something and lets get high, for real!

  • drez

    Powerful testimony from advocates in front of Alexander's committee on the 21st.

  • Atikan

    The fact that we're having this discussion is so refreshing, rather than continuing to:
    - Waste policing resources
    - Tie up the courts
    - Fill up the jails
    - Ruin people's lives with criminal records
    for nonviolent marijuana offences.

    Nobody wants their kids to be stoners but that's what regulation is for. Nobody wants their kids to be alcoholics either which is why alcohol is strictly regulated.

    Tobacco too. The U.S. is actually behind much of the world on tobacco. For some guidance on how we could regulate marijuana, check out the international agreement on tobacco: http://www.who.int/fctc/en/

    It includes bans on advertising and promotion, smoke-free areas, high taxes, and health warnings, total bans on the industry influencing the government, among others.

  • noodlez

    DREZ & NAKITA BOTH YOUR ARGUMENTS ARE FLAWED.

    IF YOU HAVE ALCOHOL IN YOUR HOME AND DRINKING ALCOHOL IN YOUR HOME YOU ARE EXPOSING YOUR CHILDREN AND THOSE AROUND YOU TO ALCOHOL. LIQUOR IS A BONAFIDE POISON WITH NO MEDICINAL PROPERTIES. WHICH BY THE WAY IS LEGAL AND HARD TO OBTAIN BY ANYONE UNDER THE AGE OF 21 HOWEVA GO ASK ANY HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT WHICH IS EASIER TO OBTAIN WEED OR ALCOHOL YOU WILL BE SURPRISED BY THEIR ANSWER.

    SMELLING SMOKE FROM YOUR NEXT DOOR NEIGHBOR AND INHALING SMOKE ARE TWO DIFFERENT THINGS. EDUCATING YOUR CHILDREN ABOUT WEED, ALCOHOL AND ANY OTHER DRUG WHETHER IT IS ILLICIT OR LEGAL WILL NOT CAUSE THEM ANY HARM BUT PUT THEM AT AN ADVANTAGE OVER THOSE THAT ARE LEFT TO FEND FOR THEMSELVES AS THEY EXPERIMENT OR THINK ABOUT EXPERIMENTING.

    IF I’M NOT MISTAKEN I THINK WEED IS THE MOST CULTIVATED CROP IN THE COUNTRY. IT IS A CASH COW WAITING TO BE BORN. WITH ALL THE TAX MONEY GOVERNMENT WILL RECEIVE IT COULD BE PUT TOWARD EDUCATION, DRUG ALTERNATIVE PROGRAMS AND JOBS.

    AS FOR THE GATEWAY BULLSHIT YOU CAN SAY THAT ABOUT ANYTHING. FOR EXAMPLE EATING MCDONALD'S FRIES LEAD FOLK TO EAT MCDONALD’S BIGMAC’S BUT DOES IT? AS FOR ADDICTION WE HUMANS HAVE ADDICTIVE QUALITIES IN EVERYDAY LIFE. SOME FOLK ARE ADDICTED TO THEIR FACEBOOK PAGE, SOME ARE ADDICTED TO FOOD OTHERS ARE ADDICTED TO GAMBLING.

    DREZ AS FOR YOUR NEIGHBORS BACK PORCH CIPHERS WHY DON’T YOU ASK THEM TO INVEST IN A SMOKELESS ASHTRAY OR A SPLOOF AND ALWAYS REMEMBER IT’S TWO HITS AND PASS WHEN YOU FIND YOURSELF IN A SITUATION!

  • drez

    noodlez
    The ability to educate my children about alcohol and weed in an environment free from influence from others is what my objection is all about.
    Smoke carries.

  • Richard

    I think Adam Eidinger might find more success if he grew up a bit, and stopped cussing about public people he needs to work with. The Dick Cheney style, well, as we all know, is for dicks.

  • Chris hauser

    What will be the fine for not collecting the nickel tax on the bag?

  • noodlez

    WE ALL HAVE THE ABILITY TO EDUCATE BUT TO EDUCATE OR NOT IS THE CONUNDRUM. LEGAL WEED MAKES IT A EASY CHOICE JUST LIKE ALCOHOL.

    WHY YOU DO IT.
    THE RIGHT WAY TO DO IT.
    THE WRONG WAY TO DO IT.

    RIGHT NOW NONE OF THAT IS BEING CONSIDERED BECAUSE CHILDREN ARE DOING IT UNDERGROUND AND IN THE DARK. IF YOUR CHILDREN ASK YOU WHAT IS THAT SMELL THEN YOU CAN EDUCATE THEM WITHOUT INVOKING THE WEED DRUG BOGEYMAN.

    IT'S WHEN YA'LL SMELL IT AND THEY DON'T ASK QUESTIONS ABOUT IT IS WHEN YOU SHOULD BE CONCERNED.

    WE NOT ON THE SAME PAGE BUT WE ARE IN THE SAME BOOK.

  • Pingback: News Coverage of the DC Marijuana Decriminalization Hearings | DCMJ

  • JoeMoralli

    When and where is the decriminalizing marijuana rally in DC?
    Let's do it!!!

  • Gilland McGuire

    DC residents or any other state does not open lines of pot mentally stuck on stupid. The brains motor is limited to make decisions at cruel points as to decisions . Summons to a DC court a verdict render without a judge review. Oh yes!!. This normal process result for DC residents , they are under influence of pot..they say with a jury no need of a judge, with a judge, no need of jury.the civil right to defend a constitutional right, no justice under influence of a pothead..69 of age never dealt with drugs but usage all levels of our society never know who making decisions over your life. Pot heads hidden at that.

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