The Green Party: How the Politics of Pot Have Changed for 2014
D.C. voters looking for a pro-pot Democratic mayor have a lot of options on April 1.
For these voters, it no longer has to be about simply voting for a candidate who will legalize the drug, it can be about finding one who will most effectively get the law through Congress and implement it in the city. At a recent Washington City Paper–sponsored debate, every candidate except Reta Jo Lewis said they would support an initiative that could appear on November’s ballot to legalize marijuana in the city. (Mayor Vince Gray, who skipped the debate, has said he supports decriminalizing marijuana but doesn’t yet back full legalization.)
Though the incumbent may not favor it, legalizing pot isn’t the far-out, lefty position it once seemed like. Politically, it actually makes sense to support legalizing it: In 2013, the District legalized medical marijuana for narrowly defined medical purposes. In March, the D.C. Council passed legislation to decriminalize possession of small amounts of pot. And now, the legalization initiative looks like it could garner enough support to pass in November.
The Washington City Paper/Kojo Nnamdi Show poll found that 49 percent of likely Democratic primary voters would support the measure that would allow adults to possess up to two ounces of marijuana for personal use and to grow up to three marijuana plants at home—a position that’s at odds with federal drugs law. The poll found that 18 percent of voters are still undecided—so if half, or even a quarter, of undecided voters wind up voting for the ballot question, it would have majority support. The biggest determining factor for supporters and detractors of this measure is not what ward they live in or race, but age: 61 percent of voters between the ages of 18 and 45 would support the measure, while only 29 percent of those over 65 would support it.
Election officials recently ruled that the pot measure is eligible for the ballot, despite arguments from opponents that it was illegal because of the potential conflict with federal laws. Once the wording gets final approval, the D.C. Cannabis Campaign has to gather signatures from 5 percent of registered voters citywide (and also at least 5 percent in five wards) to quality for November.
One of the reasons reforming marijuana has gained so much traction is it’s no longer viewed as a frivolous cause championed by potheads: It’s now a racial justice issue, particularly in the District. An ACLU study released last June showed that black people accounted for 91 percent of all D.C. marijuana arrests, despite equal usage rates by white and black residents. “The growing support for legalization rests in large part on the public’s belief that ending the failed war on drugs will help end the policing practices that fuel racial disparities in arrests in the District of Columbia,” says Seema Sadanandan, program director of the ACLU of the Nation’s Capital.
Ward 6 Councilmember and mayoral candidate Tommy Wells has long been considered the premiere pot-friendly voice on the Council. He pushed the decriminalization legislation into passage, citing racial justice as the impetus behind the reform. Adam Eidinger, the chair of the D.C. Cannabis Campaign, says Wells has consistently been the marijuana movement’s “champion.” But Wells, who is polling at just 9 percent in the City Paper/Kojo Show poll (and at only 14 percent in a Washington Post poll also released this week), doesn’t look like he’s going to win the primary. So Eidinger says he will likely be giving his vote to Ward 4 Councilmember Muriel Bowser. He met with Bowser this week and was sold. “We’ve had a blind spot on her,” he says. “She has never once worked against us, if anything she has raised important questions that decriminalization is not going to address all the arrests.”
Oh—and according to financial reports, he also gave her a $420 campaign contribution.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery