Two weeks from now, the District of Columbia will hold city elections and with cannabis in a strange state of affairs, it’s imperative that the voters know where the candidates stand when it comes to cannabis reform. That’s why community organizers and advocacy groups like DCMJ, The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), and the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) took it upon themselves to invite Democratic primary candidates to the first D.C. town hall on marijuana policy this week.
Democratic candidates running for Councilmember At-Large, David Garber and Vincent Orange, participated at Wednesday’s town hall. Robert White is also in that race, however, he had one of his staffers read his opening remarks on his behalf. The only town hall participant from Ward 4, Leon Andrews, is running against Ron Austin, Calvin Gurley, and Brandon Todd. None of the candidates from the Ward 7 or 8 races showed up to the marijuana policy town hall.
Jack Evans is running for re-election in Ward 2. He stopped by about an hour into the two hour town hall to voice his stance on cannabis policy to the voters in the audience. Uncontested, he came by to lend his support for cannabis reform and, in a Rohrbacheresque-admission, he came out publicly about getting cannabis illegally, for his cancer-stricken wife thirty years ago.”Before she passed away, we got our hands on some to deal with the cancer because she couldn’t eat,” he said. Evans is the second lawmaker in D.C. to admit to illegally obtaining and using cannabis medically. Just last week, during NORML’s lobby day, Congressional Representative Dana Rohrbacher (R-CA) became the first sitting lawmaker in recent history to admit to using cannabis, medically.
Last year, D.C. passed Initiative 71 which allows for possession, consumption, and home grows – under specific and restricted circumstances. It’s a step in the right direction for cannabis supporters in the District, but the issues of banning social use, taxing and regulation, and the racial bias of cannabis arrests remain.
David Garber is fighting to dethrone Vincent Orange (A-L), he supports lifting the social use ban and creating spaces for consumption outside the privacy of one’s own home. He said, we need to look at marijuana “as something that can be responsibly consumed, and there needs to be spaces in DC to do that.” Garber added that he was once a resident of Anacostia, among part of the poorest parts of the city where illegal public consumption isn’t ignored. Garber referred to the racial injustices befallen on the predominantly African-American community, as compared to the other, more affluent areas of the city. “We can laugh about those people on the street who will smoke it in your face,” he added, but they are the ones getting arrested. “There is more we can do to make sure there are safe spaces in DC for consumers,” Garber campaigned.
Leon Andrews is in the race for Ward 4. Framing the cannabis conversation around racial injustices, he said, “behaviors we find in the police are issues we need to address.” Andrews is attempting to take the Ward 4 council seat from incumbent Brandon Todd. Todd is a favorite of D.C.’s Mayor Muriel Bowser, as he was the mayor’s constituent-services director as well as a major campaign aide and fundraiser. MPP gives Todd an F when it comes to marijuana policy. From MPP’s handy DC voter guide: “Councilmember Todd has consistently voted in favor of the social use ban. Yet, he agreed to serve as one of two councilmembers on a task force to study the issue. He did not attend either the community forum to provide feedback on the task force or the first task force meeting.” Andrews, on the other hand, won over the crowd and the support of DCMJ’s co-founder, Adam Eidinger. Eidinger played an integral part in the passage of Initiative 71, and Tweeted his support for the Ward 4 candidate.
I support @Andrews4DC but after last night I think marijuana activists should work harder for him. He's a real reformer!
— Adam Eidinger (@aeidinger) June 2, 2016
In attempts to firm up his re-election, Vincent Orange (A-L) arrived on stage and apologized for being tardy due to a overbook schedule. Earlier this year, Orange was on the council when they had the opportunity to mark-up the bill on taxation and regulation. He affirmed his pro-cannabis stance saying, “I’m upset with the Attorney General who prevented me from making a hearing to hear from you, he continued, “We need to go forward individually…We should be able to sell, regulate, and have private clubs.” Orange said he came that evening, so his constituents know that he’s with the cannabis community “one-hundred percent”.
Orange, Garber, Andrews, and White can all agree on one thing – regulating cannabis. They say the framework could come from how the city regulates alcohol, tobacco, or some hybrid. Point is, taxing and regulating cannabis in the District is a priority for the Democratic primary candidates because they see it as a rich stream of revenue to help the city fund other much needed projects that are not related to cannabis.
In a nutshell, incumbent Brandon Todd, and the candidates in Wards 7 and 8 didn’t show up for the marijuana town hall and received poor grades on cannabis reform from The Marijuana Policy Project. Whether by proxy or in person, candidates Vincent Orange, David Garber, Robert White and Jack Evans showed their interest in advancing the pro-cannabis agenda at the town hall.
The D.C. primary is set for Tuesday, June 14, and the election is Tuesday, November 8th. Since it’s a presidential election year as well, expect a high voter turnout.