Alejandro Alvarez

Alejandro is a Washington, D.C.-based multimedia journalist reporting on activism and conflict through photography, video, and social media. He is currently News Director at News2Share. His previous work can be found at POLITICODurango Herald, and the Atlantic Council.

News2Share: "Running for Marijuana - The Story of Legalization in DC"

By Alejandro Alvarez

The following was published by News2Share on 21 Nov. 2015.

“We’re kind of, like, running for mayor, but we’re not, we’re running for marijuana.”

That was Adam Eidinger, chairman of of the DC Cannabis Campaign, to a jubilant audience while hot on the campaign trail to legalize marijuana in Washington, D.C. In February of this year, they saw that dream become a reality.

On November 4, 2014, D.C. residents at the voting booths were asked to say yea or nay to Ballot Initiative 71 – a measure that would put the nation’s capital on the same path as Oregon, Colorado, Alaska and Washington state by wholly legalizing marijuana in certain quantities.

Eidinger and his team of passionate supporters spent day and night operating out of Eidinger’s home-turned-campaign headquarters, determined to light the blunt of the democratic process in the capital.

“I had a dozen people living here with me,” he said. “My neighbors were not very happy about it. You know what? I’m a citizen of this town, and I want to run a campaign out of my home, I have a right to do that!”

The movement which would ultimately legalize marijuana was kickstarted by a police raid on Eidinger’s two-store chain, Capitol Hemp, in October 2012. The police claimed the store’s sale of glass pipes violated city drug paraphernalia laws, seizing $350,000 of merchandise and arresting six employees. Both stores were forced shut down.

For owner Eidinger, it was a call to arms. “When you’re targeted by the police,” he said, “you kind of have to be willing to fight for your rights, or just go home.”

The team that Eidinger gathered had to seed the idea of marijuana legalization up the rungs of D.C. government. While the first draft of the ballot initiative was rejected, most local politicians would ultimately swing their support behind the cause.

Congress proved more difficult. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform which has final say over District legal matters, threatened Mayor Muriel Bowser with “very serious consequences,” if she went ahead with legalization. Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) even suggested legal action against city officials.  A defiant Bowser went ahead with it anyway.

A sour attitude from House Republicans wasn’t going to stop Eidinger and his supporters, either. Even after the initiative took effect, legalization advocates are looking to extend an olive branch to federal lawmakers.

On March 17, a campaign contingent showed up at House offices on Capitol Hill dressed in full 18th Century colonial garments, offering “peace pipes” to the congressmen who got off on the wrong foot with the city. They called it “Ye Olde Colonial Constituents Day.”

Publically, the movement proved far more popular than in Congress. The campaign gathered more than 57,000 signatures for Ballot Initiative 71, leaps past the 25,000 required by District law to plant a measure on the ballot. In the end, it passed with nearly 65% of voters giving their approval.

At the first Spring Seed Share on March 26, Eidinger and his colleagues distributed cannabis seeds from a roadside set-up, wanting to provide D.C. residents with the ability and the know-how to legally grow marijuana plants at home.

The line stretched for blocks. “I think there are people waiting in line for two seeds,” said Eidinger, “I think they just want to be part of history.”

After their victory, Eidinger hopes to branch the campaign out to other issues such as D.C. statehood and income inequality. Eidinger also has his own plans – the resurrection of Capitol Hemp, telling the Washington Post the new store will have an even bigger vaporizer selection than the first.

Major Neill Franklin (Ret), Executive Director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) and a leader in the movement to legalize marijuana, had this to say in response to the initiative:

“With the liberalization of marijuana prohibition laws in our Nation’s Capitol, Washington, DC, the benefits to the black community are obvious. Thousands of fewer marijuana related arrests have opened closed doors to education, housing and employment opportunities. As for the police, the limited resources of man-hours and funds are now being concentrated upon something that really matters to community, violent crime (assaults, domestic violence, rapes, robberies, burglaries and murder). A door has also been opened for our beloved police officers. This presents an opportunity for repairing strained relationships within DC’s black, brown and poor communities. I am optimistic of this possibility, which if accomplished, could begin a national trend.”

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