Pubdate: Sun, 22 Nov 2015
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Copyright: 2015 The Washington Post Company
Author: Perry Stein


The smell near the Columbia Heights Metro station Wednesday night was 
unmistakable. A lit joint in hand, Tony Lee stood outside a residence 
talking with friends as the evening bustle passed them by, no one 
paying the group of men any special attention.

"The community I'm in, everyone engages in smoking," said Lee, 34, a 
District resident who runs his own small construction firm. Plus, he 
said, if he's not smoking, he detects the odor of other people 
getting high throughout the city on a daily basis anyway.

"I've grown accustomed to it," he said.

This casual attitude to marijuana - and the distinctive waft that 
accompanies the smoking of it - seems to be the new norm in the 
District in the year since the city voted to legalize possession of 
small amounts of pot.

According to a new Washington Post poll, 57 percent of District 
residents say they smell marijuana at least once a month. And of 
those residents, 45 percent say the smell of the once-illicit 
substance doesn't bother them at all; 17 percent say it doesn't 
bother them "too much." Fewer than 4 in 10 respondents say the smell 
irks them at least to a degree.

This prevalent public perfume may be a new feature of the nation's 
capital, but it builds upon findings of increasing support for looser 
marijuana laws.

Last November, 70 percent of District residents voted in favor of 
Initiative 71 - a ballot measure that legalized the growing and 
possession of small amounts of marijuana. The measure took effect in 
February, and since then, support for the law has not weakened.

Sixty-nine percent of residents still support the law, according to 
the poll. The numbers most notably break down along generational 
lines: Only 41 percent of residents 65 and older support marijuana 
legalization, but the number jumps to 64 percent among those 40 to 64 
years old and to 82 percent among those under 40.

There is also a gap between the rate at which black and white 
residents support the new law. The poll found that 79 percent of 
whites are still in favor of the law and that 60 percent of blacks 
support it. But, while lagging behind support among white residents, 
support among black D.C. residents has grown rapidly in recent years. 
In 2010, a Post poll found that just 37 percent of black D.C. 
residents favored legalization.

This continuing support for the law is similar to what played out in 
Colorado, where 55 percent of voters supported legalization in 2012. 
Since then, support for the Colorado law has remained steady, 
according to Quinnipiac University polls.

"It continues to be a hot-button issue for the under-40 voter group, 
and any politician that discounts the influence of this generation in 
the future won't be in politics very long," said Adam Eidinger, an 
activist who helped lead the political fight to pass Initiative 71 
and owns a marijuana paraphernalia store in Adams Morgan. "No one in 
the local government can take credit for this issue. The only reason 
why this moved is because the people spoke out."

Support is relatively even across the city's wards, and in Wards 1, 7 
and 8, residents report smelling marijuana more often. In Ward 1 - 
including U Street NW, Adams Morgan and parts of Columbia Heights - 
70 percent of residents say they smell marijuana once a month or 
more. That dips to 62 percent in Wards 7 and 8, but frequency stands 
out east of the Anacostia River: Thirty-two percent say they smell 
marijuana "every day." In Wards 2 and 3, only 8 percent say they 
smell marijuana daily.

"People aren't as discreet as they were before it was legal," said 
Wuan Smith, 21, a Ward 8 resident who says he smokes regularly in his 
Congress Heights apartment. He said he smells marijuana smoke from 
others in his neighborhood just as frequently.

Smoking in a private home in the District is legal under Initiative 
71. The law allows residents to possess as much as two ounces of 
marijuana, to grow plants in their homes and to consume marijuana in 
private - noncommercial - places.

In July 2014, activists pushed for marijuana first to be 
decriminalized. Later, they pushed for legalization, framing the 
issue as one of civil rights, citing statistics showing that 9 in 10 
people arrested for pot possession in the District between 2000 and 
2010 were black, although blacks and whites use marijuana at similar rates.

Since the law has been in effect, arrests for possession have 
predictably plummeted. In 2013, before marijuana was decriminalized 
or legalized, D.C. police arrested 1,215 people for pot possession.

So far this year, all D.C.-based police forces - including those of 
federal agencies - have arrested only seven people for marijuana 
possession, according to statistics from D.C. police.

"I don't find [the smell] super offensive," said Lena Amick, 24, a 
Columbia Heights resident who says she doesn't smoke but voted in 
favor of Initiative 71 because of the unequal arrest rates. "People 
can choose to do what they want to do."

Although possessing marijuana is legal, selling it remains illegal. 
Because the District is not a state, Congress has the power to 
overturn city laws. Republican members of Congress tried to prevent 
Initiative 71 from becoming law but ultimately just blocked the 
city's ability to pass laws regulating drug sales.

According to the Post poll, 74 percent of residents think the city 
should be allowed to regulate and tax the sale of marijuana. Even 
many older residents who oppose marijuana use are in favor of the 
District's having regulatory authority: Sixty-six percent of those 65 
and older support this, compared with 41 percent in that age group 
who support legalization in general.

"I didn't vote [to legalize marijuana], because they didn't have all 
the ducks in a row," said John, 64, a retired electrician who 
declined to give his last name, citing the sensitivity of the issue. 
"You have street vendors still. You are still promoting illegal sales."

He and his wife have lived in Ward 5's Bloomingdale neighborhood for 
more than 30 years and say they smell marijuana coming from their 
neighbors' back yards more than before.

"We are not so much bothered," he said. "It's just that when people 
come into our home, they may think it's ours."

The Post's poll was conducted Nov. 12-15 among a random sample of 
1,005 adult District residents reached on landline and cellular 
phones. The margin of sampling error for overall results is plus or 
minus four percentage points; for results in individual wards, error 
margins range between plus and minus nine to 13 percentage points.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom