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Top Lawyer’s Opinion Threatens DC Marijuana Legalization Initiative

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washington dc marijuana legalizationBy Phillip Smith

The District of Columbia’s attorney general, Irvin Nathan, has issued an opinion saying that the proposed DC marijuana legalization initiative should not go before the voters because it violates federal law. Nathan sent the opinion to the DC Board of Elections Thursday, ahead of its Tuesday meeting to decide whether or not to approve it.

Nathan’s opinion is not binding, board spokesperson Tamara Robinson told the Washington Times.

“We take all comments into consideration, whether they are from the AGs office or written from DC residents,” Robinson said. “At times we have agreed with the attorney general’s office on certain matters and at times we don’t.”

But if the board agrees with the city’s top lawyer next week, that could mean back to the drawing board for the initiative’s proponents, the DC Cannabis Coalition. That in turn could mean its chance of actually gathering enough signatures to qualify for the November 2014 ballot before the clock ran out would be greatly diminished.

In his opinion, Nathan took issue with a passage in the initiative that says “no district government agency or office shall limit or refuse to provide any facility service, program or benefit to any person” based on the legalization of marijuana.”

That language conflicts with the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, which “requires that public housing leases make ‘drug-related criminal activity’ on or off public housing premises a cause for terminating a public housing lease,” he wrote. “The proposed initiative would prohibit leases from containing such language and prohibit the District from evicting a public-housing tenant who, in violation of federal law and the lease, possessed small quantities of marijuana.”

The coalition’s Adam Eidinger told the Times said he is working with coalition lawyers from his to see if the questionable wording in the initiative can be changed ahead of the Tuesday hearing.

“It might just be a matter of four words that have to be changed,” Eidinger said. “I don’t want to lose our opportunity to collect signatures.”

The initiative would legalize the possession of up to two ounces of marijuana and allow for growing up to six plants. It would not legalize the sale of marijuana or allow for marijuana retail stores.

The DC city council is preparing for a final vote to decriminalize marijuana possession next month, and there are efforts underway to get a legalization bill moving in the council, but initiative advocates hope that they can either get on the ballot and let voters decide or use the initiative as a sword over the head of the council to prod it to act.

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