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Norton Vows to Defend D.C.'s Pot Legalization Initiative From Congress

Norton vowed to protect the legalization initiative, if passed. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

As pro-marijuana advocates had hoped, the D.C. Board of Elections voted unanimously Wednesday to put legalization on the November ballot.  

The DC Cannabis Campaign is now rallying residents to vote "Yes on 71," the initiative that would allow adults over the age of 21 to possess up to two ounces of marijuana, and cultivate up to three pot plants at any time.  

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., vowed to fight any congressional attempt to block the District from voting on the initiative and, if it is approved by voters, implementing it.  

“We will not let history repeat itself,” Norton said in a statement on Wednesday. “Republicans tried to prevent D.C. from voting on an initiative in 1998 to legalize medical marijuana, and after voters approved it, blocked its implementation with an appropriations rider for more than 10 years."  

On Tuesday, a spokeswoman for Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., confirmed that the conservative congressman would try to block legalization in the District.  

Norton said many Republicans "abandon their professed support of local control of local affairs when they have an opportunity to bully the residents of the District, who cannot hold them accountable at the ballot box," and claimed she is already working with allies to protect the will of D.C. voters.  

Supporters say that if the nation's capital follows in the steps of of Colorado and Washington by legalizing marijuana, it would be the first jurisdiction to do so on the basis of racial justice. They claim D.C. has the highest per capita marijuana arrest rates in the country and minorities are disproportionately affected.  

A 2013 study by the American Civil Liberties Union of the Nation’s Capital found that, in the District of Columbia — where roughly half the population is black — blacks are eight times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than any other racial group. The study also fount that in 2010, 91 percent of all marijuana arrests in D.C. were of blacks.  

If approved, the D.C. Council could look at ways to tax and regulate the drug. The ballot initiative does not legalize sales of marijuana.