Locked out of Ini­tia­tive 71 by the nanny state

The Washington Post Sunday - - LOCAL OPINIONS - ADAM EIDINGER WASH­ING­TON The writer pro­posed Ini­tia­tive 71, which D.C. vot­ers ap­proved in 2014.

Ini­tia­tive 71 brought sweep­ing change to the Dis­trict, but be­cause of fed­eral reg­u­la­tion, many long­time res­i­dents feel left out of the new “Dis­trict of Cannabis.” In 2014, res­i­dents voted to le­gal­ize pos­ses­sion of less than 2 ounces of mar­i­juana, growth of up to six plants and in­door use for ev­ery­one 21 or older, but like ev­ery­thing in the Dis­trict, it’s not that sim­ple.

Not ev­ery­one can ac­tu­ally smoke or med­i­cate at home. Home use and home-grow are con­trolled by prop­erty own­ers. Mar­i­juana use poli­cies are set by land­lords, so renters should be care­ful to check mar­i­juana-smok­ing poli­cies in their lease terms be­fore sign­ing away their rights un­der Ini­tia­tive 71. Ten­ants in public hous­ing don’t get to choose a cannabis-friendly lease and are forced to take the re­stric­tions of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, un­less they want to risk be­com­ing home­less.

The fed­eral gov­ern­ment still treats cannabis as a dan­ger­ous Sched­ule I drug and for­bids pos­sess­ing, con­sum­ing or grow­ing mar­i­juana in public hous­ing. Fed­eral hous­ing res­i­dents can’t smoke out­side ei­ther be­cause public use was banned by the D.C. Coun­cil, and they can’t go to a cannabis lounge be­cause the coun­cil banned so­cial use, too. So even af­ter le­gal­iz­ing mar­i­juana in the Dis­trict, the 20,000 res­i­dents whose land­lord is the fed­eral gov­ern­ment are stuck liv­ing un­der dra­co­nian, drug-war polic­ing and don’t have a safe place to smoke or med­i­cate in or out of their home.

Home­own­ers, how­ever, are un­der no such re­stric­tions and can take full ad­van­tage of the Ini­tia­tive 71 lib­er­ties to con­sume and grow cannabis in their homes in the Dis­trict. Given the high prices of the med­i­cal mar­i­juana pro­gram, many low-in­come cannabis pa­tients would pre­fer to save money by grow­ing their own medicine at home, but they can’t.

The un­for­tu­nate re­sult is that ac­cess to Ini­tia­tive 71 free­doms func­tions as a sys­tem in which the rich can af­ford to ex­er­cise their rights in the pri­vacy of their homes that they own, and low­in­come res­i­dents are locked up or locked out by the nanny state. At a re­cent meet­ing in a North­east public li­brary, mem­bers of the com­mu­nity group DCMJ aired their frus­tra­tion about cur­rent mar­i­juana poli­cies in public hous­ing.

One DCMJ mem­ber who lives in a sub­si­dized unit in South­east re­ported that she was greeted the day af­ter the an­nual April 20 mar­i­juana hol­i­day to a big orange memo from build­ing man­age­ment no­ti­fy­ing res­i­dents that mar­i­juana use was pro­hib­ited in and around the prop­erty. The no­tice ex­plained that if ten­ants break this rule, they have one chance to cor­rect the vi­o­la­tion, but if they re­ceive fed­eral hous­ing sub­si­dies, then they are sub­ject to a “one strike” rule and could be evicted im­me­di­ately with­out a chance to ap­peal. In to­day’s Wash­ing­ton, money buys leniency and the free­dom to avoid the threat of evic­tion and ha­rass­ment for mar­i­juana, and if you can’t pay, you’re in trou­ble.

The DCMJ mem­ber noted that af­ter she spoke up about black mold in the build­ing, she was in­tim­i­dated by the man­age­ment of her build­ing for us­ing mar­i­juana, even though she has a med­i­cal card for her fi­bromyal­gia. Many of the res­i­dents on the block smoke, and she is wor­ried that the man­age­ment will tar­get res­i­dents who use mar­i­juana and en­cour­age neigh­bors to re­port on each other so that it can con­tinue to ne­glect main­te­nance is­sues. The res­i­dent also wor­ries that de­vel­op­ers might be set­ting the stage for mass evic­tions as the area gen­tri­fies from the Ana­cos­tia ex­ten­sion of the D.C. Street­car.

For peo­ple re­ceiv­ing fed­eral hous­ing vouch­ers, Ini­tia­tive 71 is ir­rel­e­vant. That’s not fair. There should not be dif­fer­ent sets of rules for those who can pay and those who can’t. The Dis­trict needs one set of laws. Ini­tia­tive 71 was sup­posed to pro­vide lib­erty for all, not just priv­i­leges for some.


An anti-drug mu­ral in the Lin­coln Heights public hous­ing area.

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