The Path To Legalization In DC

by Dish Staff

Jon Walker finds a silver lining to gridlock on the Hill:

[L]ast month the House approved the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill with a policy rider from Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) which would prevent D.C. from using funds to implement marijuana reform. It was designed to stop Initiative 71, a local marijuana legalization ballot measure which is expected to win with strong support from D.C. voters this November.

Because of this historic level of dysfunction in Congress this particular appropriations bill is likely to die and all its policy riders will die with it. Instead Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) expects that when Congress briefly returns next month they will just pass a clean (meaning policy rider-free) continuing resolution to cover all funding issues until after the election. Professional budget watcher Stan Collender expects that continuing resolution to be followed by yet another one in November to maintain the status quo well into 2015.

He adds that, “At minimum, pushing any final fight about Congress interfering in D.C.’s marijuana laws until after the election should make it politically more difficult to do so.” In a post from earlier this month, Walker laid out why he’s looking forward to DC’s legalization fight:

Racial justice will be front and center – “The overarching theme of the campaign is Legalization Ends Discrimination,” Dr. Malik Burnett, the D.C. Policy Manager from the Drug Policy Alliance told me. “We are looking to have Washington D.C. be the first jurisdiction to legalize marijuana in a racial justice context.”

The huge racial disparity in marijuana arrests has helped galvanize support for reform across the country, but while the issue has played a role in the other legalization initiative campaigns so far it hasn’t been the top message other places for a simple reason. In Colorado (4.4%), Washington State (4.0%), Oregon (2.0%) and Alaska (3.9%) the African-American population is well below the national average of 13.2%. By comparison roughly half the people living in D.C. are black. In addition D.C. has a history of some of the worst racial disparity in marijuana arrests anywhere in the country. The ACLU found that nationally Blacks were 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana than whites, but in D.C. the disparity was an incredible 8 to 1.