Long before the D.C. Council decided to decriminalize marijuana (cannabis) possession, there was a lone voice that would not be deterred. It was Adam Eidinger, 40, who’s been working for more than 15 years to legalize the herb.

(Stock Photo)

When many residents thought it was absurd to attempt to legalize an herb listed on the Drug Enforcement Agency’s (DEA) Schedule 1 controlled substances, Eidinger kept trying. The nation’s capital, a place where people could grow, eat, drink, smell, and smoke marijuana, was the last place anyone would dare consider to challenge the status quo. But Eidinger never gave up.

“If people can grow basil, sage, oregano and other herbs, why can’t we grow cannabis,” said Eidinger, who turned his home into a headquarters for his latest initiative to legalize marijuana in DC.

Hoping to get Initiative 71 to legalize marijuana on the ballot, Edinger has faced several challenges, including a delay by the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics (DCBOEE) to approve the language that caused supporters to miss thousands of registered voters at the April Primary elections to sign petitions.

“DCBOE, in following statutory guidelines, did not delay processing Initiative 71,” said Tamara L. Robinson, public information officer, DC Board of Elections and Ethics.

“No matter what the board said, we believe the delay was intentionally done. But it still won’t stop us,” said Eidinger. To date, the group has collected more than 10,000 valid signatures.

Another huge challenge to the initiative is getting Black women and government workers to sign.

“Black women over 60 seemed turn off when we approach them as if we are going against their principles,” said Eidinger. “We are reaching out to Black female leaders to endorse our movement who understand we want to stop the unjustified arrests of Black males.”

Mazie Holland, cofounder of DC Women in Politics, said the organization is willing to give the group an opportunity to present ideas to its members. “Reading the AFRO articles and talking about it at church has really been an eye opener,” said Holland.

Under the Controlled Substance Act of 1970, marijuana was listed as a Schedule 1 drug because of its perceived high potential for abuse; no accepted medical use or its unsafe use without medical supervision.

Negative opinions about its legalization have been changing with states, like Colorado, demonstrating to others that marijuana growing, possession, usage and selling is as American as tobacco and alcohol. Currently, there are 18 states that have medical marijuana use and have decriminalized the substance.

Over the years, millions of Americans, mostly Blacks, have been arrested and convicted possession and usage. Now that Generation X is gaining more political power, attitudes about marijuana are changing with the times.

And since the decriminalization bill sits on Capitol Hill under a 60-day congressional review, legalization advocates are busy pushing the bar to another level.

Amir Malika Dogan El works the District streets, carefully sorting out prospects that fit the profile of someone who might be a registered voter. With clipboard in his hand, he quickly gains the attention of passersby.

“Excuse me. Are you a registered voter in the District? Well, I’m part of a group that wants to legalize marijuana,” Dogan El said, receiving varied responses from the crowd.

“I’ll sign,” said Michael Meachum, 22, Ward 4 resident. “I have been stopped about 10 times by the police looking for weed. We just want to walk in the neighborhood without being harassed by the police.”

Dogan El, with his long locks draped down his back, told the small crowd gathering at Gallery Place that he has been arrested for having a joint in his possession. “Most of the times, they use the same stuff. Police say they received a call of a Black man carrying a gun or beating some elderly woman. Then it’s stop and search. At that point, every Black man fits the profile.”

Three young Black women waiting for the X2 bus said, “We don’t smoke and we ain’t signing.” Dogan El quickly responded, “Marijuana is not just for smoking. People take it to relieve pain and lots of illnesses. You can eat or put drops in your mouth,” he said. The young women replied in unison, “Yuck.”

The District of Columbia recently passed a historic bill that decriminalized the possession of marijuana, reducing the penalty for possession to a $25 fine.

“The Council has done tremendous work to reduce the collateral consequences of marijuana possession through decriminalization,” said Dr. Malik Burnett, former surgeon and policy manager, Office of National Affairs, Drug Policy Alliance. “However, decriminalization measures do not necessarily ensure a change in policing patterns.”

The most recent example of this situation can be found in New York, which decriminalized marijuana possession in 1977, however, as of last month marijuana arrests are on track to approach 28,000 this year with approximately 80 percent of those arrested being people of color. “The only true method of changing police practices is through full scale legalization,” Burnett said.

“Marijuana policy reform is part of the emerging picture of civil rights reform in the 21st century,” Burnett continued. “The District of Columbia has historically been a leader in enacting progressive policies, and the legalization of marijuana will go a long way towards reframing drug policy around a public health framework.”


Valencia Mohammed

Special to the AFRO