Cannabis and Washington D.C.’s Primary Election

Tuesday June 2 is Washington DC’s primary election. With ongoing concerns about COVID-19’s spread and now, what appears to be a growing uprising against police violence nearly at the door of the White House—President Trump is reportedly hiding in a bunker underground—it will surely be an especially complicated election.

There are six council seats on the ballot for Ward 2, 4, 7, and 8, along with two at-large council seats and don’t forget, in overwhelmingly blue DC, nearly all of the Democratic primary victors are presumed to be the winner in November’s general election. As DCist reported last week in, “Is This Primary A Fight For The Soul Of The D.C. Council?,” quoting DC political strategist Josh Brown, progressive candidates “see blood in the water to move the council far to the left.”

The issue of where cannabis policy is headed next may seem fairly minimal next to a pandemic and what looks like a revolution, but cannabis reform has been framed as both an economic boost to the city amid the economic impact of COVID-19 and a racial justice issue, which has become once again the talk of the nation following the police killing of George Floyd. DC mayor Muriel Bowser has slyly pushed for a commercial cannabis industry via the Medical Marijuana Program Administration Amendment Act of 2020 in her proposed budget. And not long ago, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton argued that commercial cannabis could help with a local economy devastated by COVID-19 and shortchanged on federal relief.

As a result, commercial cannabis seems even more likely to arrive in the district sooner than later. It is also, as many cannabis advocates have stressed, what DC voters asked for way back in 2014 when they took to the polls in support of Initiative 71, legalizing recreational use of cannabis. Before the “Harris Rider” rolled that back.

Christina Henderson, who is running for one of the at-large council seats, spoke to The Outlaw Report earlier this year about DC’s evolution regarding issues of cannabis.

“When I first started working on marijuana policy issues in 2013 in D.C.,” Henderson told The Outlaw Report. “ We got a lot of pushback, especially from people like the mayor.”

Henderson, who is running as an Independent, has been endorsed by David Grosso, after he decided he would not run for reelection. Henderson was a former Grosso staff member and she worked on a number of cannabis-related bills, including the Marijuana Legalization and Regulation Act of 2013, which would have created a taxed-and-regulated system for cannabis. Years later, Henderson continues pushing for a commercial industry.

“I think it is completely unfortunate and ridiculous that the Congress is continuing to block D.C. from being able to move forward with a tax-and-regulate system,” Henderson told The Outlaw Report. “That has created a patchwork system that we are currently dealing with where we still have not completely put the underground market out of business, which I think is still leading to the detainment and arrest of individuals.”

In Ward 4, Brandon Todd, a fairly moderate councilperson is being challenged by Janeese Lewis George, a bold progressive who has pushed Tood in debates, often making more staid members of the political establishment uncomfortable. Most notably, George called Todd out for repealing Initiative 77, a ballot measure that gradually removed tipped minimum wage that voters approved. For cannabis advocates, DC politicians challenging mildly politically loaded initiatives and usurping the will of the voters is all too familiar.

And there are the differences between Todd and George on the issue of cannabis itself. As Washington City Paper wrote, there is “hardly…a single issue on which the challenger and the incumbent agreed.” When it comes to cannabis, George not only supports a commercial industry for cannabis in DC but has said that she would like to steadily decriminalize all other drugs. Todd has been more hesitant to support a taxed and regulated system for cannabis in DC.

And in Ward 2, Jack Evans, who has, in the past been a friend to cannabis advocates, is running for his seat even after he resigned from council earlier this year due to ethics violations. 

On January 17, Evans resigned—to avoid being expelled—but by the end of the month, had filed paperwork with the Board of Elections to run for his seat. Back then, Grosso told the Washington Post that Evans’ decision to run for the seat he was nearly kicked out of, “demonstrates…that he doesn’t take ethics at all seriously,” and that Evans, “has not been contrite one bit.”

Back in 2019, Maryland Marijuana Justice’s Adam Eidinger who worked closely with Evans regarding cannabis legalization in DC, told DCist, “it’s time” for Evans to go. 

“I believe that he’s committed crimes,” Eidinger said. “He’s lost the public trust, and we shouldn’t have to wait for another election for him to leave.”

There are many other people running in Ward 2 and none of the candidates—including Evans—have generated a significant amount of support. It seems as though Patrick Kennedy, a progressive and Evans’ former campaign chair, is polling the highest—according to a poll Kennedy’s campaign released in May. It puts Kennedy at 18%, Evans at 9%, Jordan Grossman at 8%, and the other below that.

The Ward 2 election is a special election because Evans resigned and is held on June 16, which gives voters a bit more time to think this through. Though even if you are a single-issue voter and that single-issue is cannabis, a vote for Evans seems fraught especially when stances on cannabis have become far more nuanced over the past few years.

Photo by Victor Moussa / via Shutterstock

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