Pubdate: Fri, 19 Sep 2014
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Copyright: 2014 The Washington Post Company
Authors: Aaron C. Davis and Peyton M. Craighill
Page: B2


Almost Two-Thirds of Likely Voters Back Measure on Nov. 4 Ballot

Voters in the District of Columbia are poised to follow Colorado and 
Washington state into a closely watched experiment to legalize 
marijuana, according to a new NBC4/Washington Post/ Marist poll.

By an almost 2-to-1 ratio, likely voters in the city's Nov. 4 
election say they support Initiative 71, a ballot measure that would 
legalize possession of marijuana, its home cultivation and the sale 
of paraphernalia to smoke it.

The results show an electorate unshaken - even emboldened - nine 
months after legal marijuana sales began in Colorado and six months 
after D.C. lawmakers stripped away jail time for possession, making 
it just a $25 offense in the nation's capital.

Although the District has so far felt little fallout from those 
moves, full legalization on the streets surrounding the White House 
would thrust the District into an untenable conflict with federal 
drug laws, potentially hastening the arrival of a larger national 
debate. It would also complicate it.

Legalization in the District is fused with the weighty issues of 
civil rights and drug arrest rates among African Americans. In 
faraway Western states that have legalized marijuana, those issues 
have been largely secondary to concerns about civil liberties and drug safety.

Pro-marijuana activists supporting Initiative 71, in fact, have 
almost no money in their campaign account and might not run a single 
ad, but support seems increasingly hardened in part because of a 
major shift toward support among African Americans.

The District's black residents, who now account for half its 
population, once opposed marijuana legalization, partly out of fear 
it could contribute to addiction among black youths. But as new 
studies have suggested otherwise, that attitude has evolved. One 
study last year showed that blacks account for nine out of 10 arrests 
for simple drug possession in the District, while another showed that 
was the case even as usage likely varied little among races.

According to the poll, 56 percent of likely African American voters 
say they would vote for legalization, nearly identical to the 
response to a broader question about support for legalization asked 
in a Washington Post poll in January. Together, the polls confirm a 
complete reversal of opinion among African Americans from four years 
ago. Then, 37 percent were in favor of legalization and 55 percent opposed.

The District's rapidly changing demographics also help explain the 
possible success of the initiative. In four years, the population of 
the District has swelled by 45,000, or 7.4 percent, and many 
newcomers are young, white and increasingly affluent. More than 7 in 
10 voters in these groups support legalization.

All that puts the District far to the left of the legalization 
discussion nationally, with the country closely divided at 49 percent 
in favor and 48 percent opposed, according to a Washington PostABC 
News poll earlier this year.

Nina Moiseiwitsch, 19, a college student studying biomedical 
engineering in New York, said she is certain to vote absentee in the 
District to be heard on the marijuana issue.

The government and police "have better things to focus on than trying 
to keep on top of something they really can't," she said. "I think 
it's a distraction from . . . harder drugs that really are a problem 
in D.C. And it could become safer once regulated."

Activists collected more than 57,000 signatures to qualify the 
measure for the ballot. They pushed forward even as some 
pro-marijuana groups urged restraint, concerned that legalization in 
the District risks forcing Congress to react.

The measure would allow people 21 and older to possess as much as two 
ounces of marijuana for personal use and to grow up to three 
marijuana plants at home.

To keep from triggering a prohibition on ballot measures that run 
afoul of federal law, Initiative 71 does not spell out that the 
District would allow for the sale of marijuana. That would be left up 
to regulations to be written and approved by the next mayor and D.C. 
Council. They also would have broad power to alter the measure.

Against that backdrop, the increasing likelihood that Initiative 71 
will pass could force candidates for mayor - Democrat Muriel Bowser, 
the council member for Ward 4; David A. Catania, an at-large council 
member running as an independent; and Carol Schwartz, a former 
council member also running as an independent - to offer more 
thorough explanations on their views of the issue.

Bowser and Catania have said they would vote for legalization, but 
neither has shown a propensity for direct conflict with federal law 
enforcement over drug laws. Schwartz opposes legalization.

During the council debate on decriminalizing marijuana in the spring, 
Bowser supported doing so, but she said allowing residents to possess 
marijuana begged the question of how they would come to obtain it. 
"Dealing with how people can procure this decriminalized marijuana 
has to be the second step," she said.

Catania was instrumental in establishing the District's medical 
marijuana program, but for years he sought to do so cautiously, in 
order to not draw the scrutiny of federal agents based in the 
District who enforce federal drug laws.

The NBC4/Washington Post/ Marist poll was conducted Sept. 14 to 16 
among a random sample of 1,249 D.C. adults reached on conventional 
and cellular phones. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 
four percentage points among the sample of 572 likely voters.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom