Washington D.C. Marijuana Legalization, Initiative 71 (November 2014)

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A Washington, D.C., Marijuana Legalization, Initiative 71 ballot question was on the November 4, 2014 election ballot for voters in the District of Columbia, where it was approved. Although 70 percent of voters approved Initiative 71, the U.S. Congress proposed a law that could prevent the full implementation of legalization by prohibiting the use of any local or federal funds to be used to decriminalize or legalize marijuana. Congress tacked the law onto its massive budget proposal, which needed to pass to allow funding for continued government operation.[1]

Propositions for two competing efforts to eliminate legal consequences for small amounts of recreational marijuana in the nation's capitol were seen in early 2014. A group called DCMJ 2014, led by Adam Eidinger, co-owner of Capital Hemp, filed its Marijuana Legalization initiative - Initiative 71 - with the D.C. Board of Elections on January 10, 2014. Supporters called the initiative the Legalization of Home Cultivation and Possession of Minimal Amounts of Marijuana for Personal Use Act of 2014. This measure was designed to fully legalize the possession and use of up to two ounces of marijuana and the possession and cultivation of up to three marijuana plants.[2][3][4][5]

City legislators approved a bill that decriminalized possession of small amounts of pot on March 5, 2014. It was made relatively obsolete, however, by the approval of Initiative 71.[6][7]

Adam Eidinger, campaign chairman for the D.C. Cannabis Campaign expressed concern that the U.S. Congress would interfere with the initiative and prevent it from going into effect, since marijuana would still be illegal according to federal law. Eidinger said, "We are proud of our petition circulators who braved the heat to further democracy in the District of Columbia, but I am very concerned that members of Congress will use their power to stop District of Columbia voters from being able to fully participate in the democratic process. We deserve the right to vote on Initiative 71."[2]

Both the enacted decriminalization bill and Initiative 71 were targeted by critics at the federal level. Ultimately, the U.S. Congress claims control over laws in the nation's capital and have, historically, been eager to assert this authority with regard to autonomy for Washington D.C.--for example, with the budget autonomy ballot question approved by city voters in 2013. Considering marijuana consumption is illegal according to federal law, some expected Congress to oppose Initiative 71, since it puts the capital's laws in conflict with federal drug enforcement policy. Ultimately, Congress waited until after the election to begin working against the measure.


Although 114,929 out of the 163,978 who voted on it approved Initiative 71, which was designed to legalize small amounts of marijuana in the nation's capital, the fate of the measure ultimately rests with the U.S. Congress, a legislative body in which D.C. voters have no representatives. City and federal law allowed congress 30 days after the results of the measure were certified to review it and cast judgement. If a resolution to reject the measure is approved, the initiative could not be enforced unless the president vetoes the resolution. If unable to find support for an explicit resolution disenfranchising so many city voters, Congress also had the power to refuse to authorize funding necessary for regulation and enforcement of the new law, thereby restricting the initiative from taking effect.[8]

Congress decided to at least implement this second option. Buried in its $1.1 trillion spending bill, Congress included a small addition that prohibits federal or local funds from being used to “enact any law, rule, or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce penalties associated with the possession, use, or distribution of any schedule I substance," which includes marijuana. The small addition to the budget proposal was easily passed, since the spending bill needed to be approved to allow the continued funding of federal government operation. This law, while seeking to prevent the will of 70 percent of voters in the capital, would also work against a decriminalization bill passed by the city council early in 2014 that makes possession of small amounts of marijuana a civil infraction, removing jail time and sharply reducing the maximum fines for violations. Some, however, are claiming that this law only prevents future legalization or decriminalization, while Initiative 71 was already "enacted." A summary of the legislative rider for the House Appropriations Committee implies, however, that the bill was specifically designed to prevent the enactment of Initiative 71. A court case will likely decide this issue. Before the passage of the bill, Mayor-elect Muriel Bowser said, “I call on all members of Congress to respect the will of D.C. voters and reject any attempts to violate our right to self-governance. In the meantime, the Council and I will move forward to implement the law in a thoughtful and responsible way.”[1][9]

D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) stated that he would ignore the controversial rider prohibiting funding for Initiative 71, and he continued to follow regular protocol. The next step for the city council was to submit a proposal to Congress implementing Initiative 71. The council took this step on January 13, 2015, giving Congress a 30-day review period, during which the lawmakers can repeal the bill or let it stand.[10][11][12]

This process was used by the pro-legalization side to argue that the law dictates that Initiative 71 has already been "enacted," since Congress must take action to "repeal" it, and a law that is not enacted cannot be repealed. If this argument prevails, the funding block already passed by Congress would only apply to future efforts, leaving Initiative 71 intact and enforceable.[10]

Holmes Norton said, “Should we accept that it was already struck down, or should we make them work for it?” Agreeing with Mendelson's plan, she continued, “The question is, what should the District’s posture now be... and it’s absolutely continue the fight. Adopt your own interpretation of what the [budget] language means and put the burden on them [the Republican majority] to strike it down. Do not acquiesce.”[10]

Election results

Washington D.C. Initiative 71
Approveda Yes 115,050 70.06%
Election results from the District of Columbia Board of Elections
  • Note: The percentages above are calculated from the total votes on Initiative 71. The DC Board of Elections' percentages are different because they include the 10,383 undervotes and 18 overvotes.


Although all polls indicated Initiative 71 would sail through November's election with overwhelming voter approval, questions still remained about how and when the initiative would take effect. These questions arose from the complexity regarding laws governing the initiative power and uncertainty about what actions Congress might take to thwart, support or simply change the measure.[13]

Regulation of sales

Election law does not allow a citizen initiative to mandate the expenditure of city funds. This forced Initiative 71 to avoid addressing the regulation and legalization of marijuana sales, since a regulatory system would require substantial city expenditure. Thus, Initiative 71 simply legalized possession and personal cultivation. The initiative demanded that the city council design and submit to Congress an ordinance to establish regulations on marijuana retail and enforcement of such regulations.[13]

Delayed implementation

Because of the complexities surrounding the measure, including the possibility that Congress will simply overturn Initiative 71 and the necessity for the council to design provisions for the enforcement of restrictions and regulations on the sale and use of marijuana, city council members openly discussed the option of delaying the implementation of Initiative 71 until some of the uncertainties surrounding it could be ironed out.[13]

Councilman David Grosso said, “I don’t want uncertainty to be out there in the streets and in the market, and the initiative as it is written doesn’t give us the certainty we need." He continued, "It may be easier to just delay the whole thing while we come up with the regulatory framework."[13]

Supporters of Initiative 71 were less than pleased with this prospect. Some predicted that, due to the widespread support of the measure, there would be significant political consequences and disfavor among the people if the council were to delay legalization. Aaron Houston, a longtime marijuana reform advocate in D.C., said, “Because marijuana legalization is broadly supported by D.C. voters — and given the deep disdain voters here have against politicians subverting the will of the people — any move to delay implementation of the intent of the initiative would be very politically risky."[13]

Marijuana advocates also pointed towards Colorado to argue that the design of retail regulations can occur after legalization. Adam Eidinger, one of the leaders in the pro-71 movement, said that in Colorado legalization was implemented only a month after the approval of Amendment 64, while it took over a year to put the necessary ordinances and infrastructure in place to allow legal sales of the drug. Eidinger said, “They stopped arresting people, they let people grow their own and keep what they grew. There was no regulation in place other than that.”[13]

Text of measure

DCMJ 2014 campaign website image

Short title

The ballot title for Initiative 71 appeared as:[14]

Legalization of Possession of Minimal Amounts of Marijuana for Personal Use Act of 2014[15]

Ballot summary

The ballot summary for Initiative 71 appeared as:[14]

This initiative, if passed, will make it lawful under District of Columbia law for a person 21 years of age or older to:

  • possess up to two ounces of marijuana for personal use;
  • grow no more than six cannabis plants with 3 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.[15]

Full text

See also: Washington D.C. Marijuana Legalization, Initiative 71 (November 2014), full text

The full text of the legislation enacted by the approval of Initiative 71 is available here.[14]


DCMJ campaign sign


  • D.C. Cannabis Campaign (DCMJ 2014)[16]
  • Adam Eidinger, co-owner of Capital Hemp

Eidinger said, "I imagine the President rolling up a tobacco-marijuana cigarette with John Boehner and sitting on the back porch of the White House to work out their problems."[5]


Eidinger and supporters of the initiative claimed the following reasons for and benefits of a yes vote on legalization:[5]

  • Dignity for victims of the racist drug war.
  • Safety from encountering drug deals gone bad and poor quality weed.
  • Quality increases at cannabis retailers when they compete with home grow.
  • No cash exchange is needed and it defunds cartels.
  • Limited to just three mature plants making diversion unlikely.
  • D.C. voters already approved home cultivation in 1998.
  • Home cultivation is permitted in many jurisdictions where marijuana is legal.
  • There is no threat to children, according to an NIH study.
  • Federal Government is only concerned with large grows, not three plants.
  • The notion that the state has power to regulate nature out of existence is immoral.
  • Home brewing of wine and beer came with alcohol prohibition ending.
  • Cannabis is not just a big business to be taxed.
  • D.C. could require registrations for home cultivation.
  • Our founding fathers wanted people to be happy and free at home.
  • Homegrown tobacco is not regulated.

Issue of race

A lot of support for Initiative 71, as well as for decriminalization, was fueled by reports of an inordinate number of arrests of African Americans, especially young black men, for marijuana possession and use. While surveys showed equal or higher use of marijuana by white people, a fairly large majority of marijuana related arrests were made on black people. Supporters said Initiative 71 would end this arena for racism.[5]

Supporting bill

Eidinger and DCMJ 2014 supported a bill sponsored by city council member David Grosso (I-At Large), which, according to U.S. News, "would levy a 10 percent tax on recreational marijuana and 6 percent on medical marijuana. It would also authorize the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration to issue licenses to recreational marijuana stores." Eidinger said, "We think Grosso's bill is the bill that should be heard before the Judiciary Committee, not Wells' bill. I'm really excited about the Grosso bill, but he's not getting any respect." As of November 2014, Grosso's bill did not have any co-sponsors.


  • D.C. Attorney General Irv Nathan[17]
  • Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6)

Arguments against

Attorney General Nathan advised the board of elections that the proposed initiative would violate federal law and urged them to reject it. In a letter to the D.C. Board of Elections Nathan wrote, "The Initiative is improper because its prohibition on denying any benefit based on conduct that it purports to make lawful is incompatible with at least one area of federal law involving District-provided benefits: federal public housing law."[17]


  • The Washington Post editorial board released an article urging voters to reject Initiative 71 and wait to make a less hasty and more thoughtful decision after more research on the drug had been done and after legalization had been tried in other areas. The article also presented the city's decriminalization bill already in place, a bill that decreased penalties for marijuana use to a small fine, as a better, more cautious approach. Below is an excerpt of the Washington Post editorial:[18]

We supported the elimination of harsh criminal penalties; jailing people who smoked pot and saddling them with criminal records made no sense and resulted in the unfair targeting of young black men.


It’s instructive that the council, in assessing the city’s approach to marijuana enforcement, chose the more cautious path of decriminalization rather than outright legalization. Voters would do well to consider the reasons for that caution.

The American Medical Association has come out against legalization, arguing that “cannabis is a dangerous drug and as such is a public health concern.” The active ingredient in marijuana has been linked to memory problems, impaired thinking and weakened immune systems, not to mention it acts as a gateway to more dangerous drugs. Dangers are more pronounced for young people. A study just published in the Lancet Psychiatry reported that teenagers who smoke marijuana daily are 60 percent less likely to complete high school. Advocates of legalization say it would not apply to young people but with legalization inevitably comes a message of approval.

It’s not been a year since Colorado became the first state to allow recreational marijuana use and, as the Smart Approaches to Marijuana has catalogued, there have been negative consequences, including increased instances of impaired driving and increased use by youth. With marijuana already decriminalized, there’s no reason for the District to rush the next step; why not at least give Colorado a bit more time to provide lessons?

D.C. voters should vote no on Initiative No. 71 on Nov. 4.[15]

The Washington Post editorial board[18]

Decriminalization bill

Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) sponsored a bill called the "Marijuana Decriminalization Bill," which reduced the maximum penalty for possession of an ounce of marijuana from six months in prison and a $1,000 find to just a $25 fine for possession and a $100 fine for public use, with no jail time. This bill was given final approval by the entire city council on March 4, 2014. The DCMJ 2014 initiative superseded this bill.[5][6][7][2]

Eidinger, who disapproved of Wells' bill, said, "Sixty-four percent in our poll in April supported legalization." But he expressed concern that support for the decriminalization bill might divert support for his initiative and stated that he might withdraw his initiative if support waned too much, saying, "I won't do it if it's under 60 percent, you can mark my words. If we're at 59 percent in our next poll of D.C. voters for legalization, if we're losing support for legalization because of Wells' efforts, then we won't do it." Eidinger believed that Wells' bill would not put a stop to drug-related violence as well as having other weaknesses. A recent poll showed 63 percent support for legalization.[5]


Washington Post

The Washington Post published polls in January 2014 and again in September 2014, which showed overwhelming support for the legalization of marijuana in the nation's capitol holding steady. The polls were conducted by phone - both cell phones and land lines - and asked about support or opposition to the legalization of small amounts of marijuana. The results were as follows:[19]

Washington D.C. Marijuana Legalization 2014
Poll Support OpposeOtherMargin of ErrorSample Size
Washington Post poll on pot legalization
Washington Post poll on pot legalization[20]
9/14/2014 - 9/16/2014
AVERAGES 63% 34% 3% +/-3.5 1,036.5
Note: The polls above may not reflect all polls that have been conducted in this race. Those displayed are a random sampling chosen by Ballotpedia staff. If you would like to nominate another poll for inclusion in the table, send an email to editor@ballotpedia.org.

During the January poll, the 341 polled who were opposed to marijuana legalization were also asked about support for or opposition to decriminalization of marijuana. The poll asked the people who responded in opposition to legalization if they would be in favor of or opposed to creating a maximum penalty of a $100 fine for possession of a small amount of marijuana. The responses were as follows:[19]

Washington D.C. Marijuana Decriminalization 2014
Poll Support OpposeOtherSample Size
Washington Post poll on pot decriminalization
Note: The polls above may not reflect all polls that have been conducted in this race. Those displayed are a random sampling chosen by Ballotpedia staff. If you would like to nominate another poll for inclusion in the table, send an email to editor@ballotpedia.org.

The most recent polls, compared to a 2010 poll, showed a shocking increase over the last 4 years in the portion of Washington D.C. residents that favor legalization. A similar poll conducted in January of 2010 showed the following, much more evenly divided sides of support and opposition, with opposition slightly ahead:[21]

Washington D.C. Marijuana Legalization 2010
Poll Support OpposeOtherMargin of ErrorSample Size
Washington Post poll, including pot legalization
Jan. 24-28, 2010
Note: The polls above may not reflect all polls that have been conducted in this race. Those displayed are a random sampling chosen by Ballotpedia staff. If you would like to nominate another poll for inclusion in the table, send an email to editor@ballotpedia.org.

Public Policy Polling

Public Policy Polling was commissioned to conduct a poll by WAMU's The Kojo Nnamdi Show and the Washington City Paper that asked many questions, including the following question on the proposed marijuana legalization initiative:[22]

The D.C. Council recently voted to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. But this November, the ballot may contain a referendum question regarding marijuana legalization. The proposal could allow adults to possess up to two ounces of marijuana for personal use and to grow up to three marijuana plants at home. The city’s Attorney General has opposed this idea, arguing that it would put D.C. at odds with federal drug laws. If you were to vote on the ballot measure today, how would you vote?[15]

This poll was conducted by calling landlines.[23] The results were as follows:

D.C. Marijuana Legalization Poll
Poll Support OpposeOtherMargin of ErrorSample Size
Public Policy Polling questionnaire, including marijuana legalization
03/13/2014 - 03/16/2014
Note: The polls above may not reflect all polls that have been conducted in this race. Those displayed are a random sampling chosen by Ballotpedia staff. If you would like to nominate another poll for inclusion in the table, send an email to editor@ballotpedia.org.

Path to the ballot

The group D.C. Cannabis Campaign (DCMJ 2014) submitted their initiative on January 10, 2014. After much opposition from D.C. Attorney General Irv Nathan, the D.C. Board of Elections approved the legalization initiative on March 11, 2014. Eidinger, leader of DCMJ 2014 was hoping for an April 1, 2014, kickoff to signature gathering, with circulators stationed outside of polling places during the city's primary election on that day. But delays in the board's decision on the initiative pushed back the day on which proponents were able to collect signatures. Eidinger said, “Now it’s not happening until mid-April—4/20, maybe."[3][24]

The signature submission deadline for the initiative was set by law as July 7, 2014. On July 1, 2014, the D.C. Cannabis Campaign announced that its circulators had collected over 57,000 signatures. The group only needed 23,780 valid signatures to qualify Initaitive 71 for the ballot. After submitting them, the group announced that it only took 75 days to collect the signatures. On August 6, 2014, the D.C. Board of Elections ruled the petition sufficient and certified Initiative 71 for the ballot.[2][24][25][26]

Similar measures


Approveda Washington D.C. Marijuana Legalization, Initiative 71 (November 2014)



Approveda City of Lewiston Recreational Marijuana Legalization Measure (November 2014)
Approveda City of South Portland Recreational Marijuana Legalization Measure (November 2014)
Proposed ballot measures that were not on a ballot Town of York Recreational Marijuana Legalization Measure (November 2014)



New Mexico:

Approveda Santa Fe County Marijuana Decriminalization Advisory Question (November 2014)
Approveda Bernalillo County Marijuana Decriminalization Advisory Question, Measure 1 (November 2014)
Proposed ballot measures that were not on a ballot City of Albuquerque Marijuana Decriminalization Measure (November 2014)
Proposed ballot measures that were not on a ballot City of Santa Fe Marijuana Decriminalization Initiative (November 2014)


Approveda Dane County State Legalization of Marijuana Referendum (April 2014)



Approveda City of Santa Ana Council-Referred Medical Marijuana Regulation Ordinance, Measure BB (November 2014)
Defeatedd City of Santa Ana Medical Cannabis Restriction and Limitation Initiative, Measure CC (November 2014)
Defeatedd City of La Mesa Medical Marijuana Initiative, Proposition J (November 2014)
Defeatedd City of Encinitas Medical Marijuana Initiative, Proposition F (November 2014)
Defeatedd Nevada County Medical Marijuana Cultivation, Measure S (November 2014)
Approveda Butte County Medical Marijuana Ordinance 4075 Referendum, Measure A (November 2014)
Defeatedd Butte County Medical Marijuana Initiative, Measure B (November 2014)
Approveda Shasta County Outdoor Medical Marijuana Ordinance Referendum, Measure A (November 2014)
Defeatedd Lake County "Medical Marijuana Control Act" Initiative, Measure O (November 2014)
Defeatedd Lake County "Freedom to Garden Human Rights Restoration Act" Initiative, Measure P (November 2014)
Defeatedd City of Weed Permitting Licensing of Medical Marijuana Dispensaries Advisory Question, Measure L (November 2014)
Approveda City of Weed Outdoor Marijuana Cultivation Ban Advisory Question, Measure K (November 2014)
Approveda Lake County Marijuana Cultivation Ordinance 2997 Referendum, Measure N (June 2014)
Proposed ballot measures that were not on a ballot City of Imperial Beach "Compassionate Access Ordinance" Medical Marijuana Dispensaries Act (June 2014)
Proposed ballot measures that were not on a ballot City of Napa Medical Marijuana Dispensary Referendum (November 2014)
Proposed ballot measures that were not on a ballot City of Costa Mesa "Initiative to Provide Revenue to the City of Costa Mesa Citizens" Medical Marijuana Initiative (November 2014)
Proposed ballot measures that were not on a ballot City of Costa Mesa "Act to Restrict and Regulate the Operation of Medical Marijuana Businesses" Initiative (November 2014)
Proposed ballot measures that were not on a ballot City of San Jose Medical Marijuana Regulation Act of 2014 (November 2014)
Proposed ballot measures that were not on a ballot City of San Jose Pension Measure to Alter Measure B Reform Charter Amendment (November 2014)

See also

External links

Suggest a link

Additional reading


  1. 1.0 1.1 Washington Times, "Congress axes D.C. marijuana legalization in spending plan," December 9, 2014
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Vox, "DC may vote on marijuana legalization this November," July 1, 2014
  3. 3.0 3.1 The Washington Post, "D.C. Board of Elections allows marijuana legalization effort to move forward," March 11, 2014
  4. Fox News, "Pot legalization ballot initiative filed in DC," January 10, 2014
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 DCist, "Marijuana Activists Fight For Full Legalization, Home Cultivation In D.C." October 18, 2013
  6. 6.0 6.1 The Washington Post, "D.C. Council members advance bill to eliminate jail, limit fines for marijuana to $25," January 15, 2014
  7. 7.0 7.1 Bloomberg.com, "Pot Decriminalization Approved by Washington City Council," March 5, 2014
  8. Government Executive, "Will Congress Let D.C. Legalize Pot?," December 1, 2014
  9. WXII 12 News, "Activists: House to block DC pot legalization," December 10, 2014
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 The Washington Post, "D.C. maneuvering for marijuana showdown with Congress," December 13, 2014
  11. RT, "DC Council sends pot legalization measure for congressional review despite ban," January 14, 2015
  12. [dhttp://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/jan/14/dcs-marijuana-legalization-initiative-under-review/ Washington Times, "D.C.’s marijuana legalization initiative under review by Congress," January 14, 2015]
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 13.4 13.5 Marijuana.com, "D.C. Ballot Measure Faces Possible Delay If Approved," October 13, 2014
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 DCMJ 2014 website," accessed January 13, 2014
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 15.3 Note: This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributed to the original source.
  16. DCMJ 2014 official website, accessed March 12, 2014
  17. 17.0 17.1 The DCist, "D.C. Attorney General: Marijuana Legalization Ballot Initiative Violates Federal Law," February 20, 2014
  18. 18.0 18.1 The Washington Post, "D.C. voters should reject the rush to legalize marijuana," September 14, 2014
  19. 19.0 19.1 Washington Post, "Support for marijuana legalization grows in the District," January 15, 2014
  20. Note: Among the 1,070 registered voters, 572 were identified as likely voters. The results among likely voters was identical to the results among all of those surveyed.
  21. Washington Post, "January 2010 DC Poll," accessed January 17, 2014
  22. The Week Blog, "Poll: 49% Support Marijuana Legalization In Washington DC, 39% Oppose," archived March 27, 2014
  23. Note: Some speculated that the actual percentage of supporters is higher than this poll indicates because those with landlines tend to be older and more conservative.
  24. 24.0 24.1 The Washingtonian, "DC Voters Could Get to Vote on Marijuana Legalization in November," March 11, 2014
  25. CBS DC, "D.C. Pot Group Submits Signatures to Let Voters Decide on Marijuana Legalization," July 7, 2014
  26. DCMJ website, "PRESS RELEASE: Ballot Initiative 71 Qualifies for November General Election Ballot," August 6, 2014