The activists working for marijuana reform in the District of Columbia seem to be on to something. According to a survey that came out Wednesday, 75 percent of Washington, DC, voters support decriminalization of marijuana possession. The poll was undertaken by two marijuana lobbying groups, the Drug Policy Alliance and the Marijuana Policy Project, who undertook a telephone poll in early April that reached over 1, 600 registered voters. Aside from the three-quarters of voters who support decriminalization, the poll found that two-thirds believe efforts by law enforcement with regard to marijuana would be better utilized in other ways. Fully 63 percent are in support of ballot initiatives legalizing the drug, such as those passed in Washington state and Colorado last year. And a majority of District voters believe that marijuana is a public health issue, not a crime. Fifty-four percent said possession of a small amount of marijuana, or any drug, should be treated like a traffic violation and not a criminal offense.
The data showed a bit of a racial difference. Both white and black DC voters were in favor of legalization, but only 53 percent of black voters were in agreement, as opposed to 77 percent of whites. Decriminalization was favored by 85 percent of whites and only 69 percent of black voters. But overall, it is clear that DC voters would prefer that their law enforcement resources be spent on more important matters.
These attitudes are reflective of opinions across the country. National attitudes toward marijuana are changing rapidly. Ten years ago, polls showed a majority of Americans were against legalization. Today, that number has switched, with more US voters in favor of legalization than not. In Washington, DC, marijuana reform lobbyists are considering how to capitalize on this shift in opinion. They’ve been hotly debating plans to move legal reforms forward, hoping to achieve decriminalization, at the very least. Any reforms would most certainly also include access to treatment and health services for those who abuse the drug.
As the city’s first medical marijuana facility prepares to open, the push is on. The city council would be the first step, or, if that fails, there’s the possibility of a ballot initiative. The polling results seem to indicate such an initiative could succeed. There is ever-decreasing support for laws criminalizing marijuana users, citing studies showing that the drug is less harmful than alcohol or cigarettes. As with gay marriage, activists see this turn-around in attitudes as an indication that a change in the law could be imminent.
The decision is up to the DC City Council. If that doesn’t result in a change in the law, the matter may soon be put to a referendum. Grassroots efforts to organize a ballot initiative are currently underway.