The citizens of Washington DC support the cannabis gifting economy that exists today due to Congressional meddling in the city’s affairs when the voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot initiative to legalize cannabis in 2014, according to a poll released today by The I-71 Committee, a group of legacy operators that want to work with the DC Council to pass fair & equitable cannabis reforms. The poll was conducted by Brilliant Corners Research & Strategies, a very reputable firm that boasts former President Obama among its clients.
Ok, let me bring new folks up to speed, everyone else can skip. When I-71 was set to go into law, Congressional Republicans created a rider in the federal spending budget that prevents DC from using any of its own money to create a retail sales system, thus depriving them of tax money from such and being first to market on the East Coast. However, the law that passed allowed for people to give cannabis to one another, which ingenious and bold entrepreneurs used to create a thriving cannabis economy by selling something that isn’t weed, like a tee-shirt, and “gifting” weed as a free thank-you for patronizing their small business. This went more or less ignored by the District government for five years, outside of the occasional raid by the Metropolitan Police Department, until Chairman Mendelson suddenly decided the whole thing needed to be shut down. Several attempts to shutter these businesses have happened since, the most recent a multi-agency regulatory effort it turns out no one had the budget or will to implement.
These operators have banded together in the face of these shutdown efforts to plead the case for their continued existence as the most socially equitable cannabis “program” in the country. In a self-reported survey conducted by the I-71 Committee, 73.7% operators claim DC residency, along with 61.4% of their employees. Over half of these business owners identified as Black, nearly half identified as women, and nearly 70% are under the age of 35. There is no licensed cannabis program created by a state government anywhere throughout the United States that can boast such vibrant diversity.
But let’s get back to the polling data! What caught my attention the most is that, among the voters surveyed, reforming cannabis is dead last in the priority list for the majority of the District’s denizens, with a mere 26% stating that it was extremely important to address. Of far greater concern to voters are lowering crime rates, getting illegal guns off the streets (both at 81%), and addressing mental health & homelessness (79%). Interestingly, only 4% of voters surveyed attributed the rise in crime with the legalization of cannabis. 4%! What did they attribute it to? “Lack of economic opportunity” was one of the big ones, which the existence of I-71 shops directly addresses, and the shuttering of these shops would adversely impact. The other was “too many guns on the streets,” and addressing this issue is clearly the more popular use of the city’s resources than closing weed stores that 66% support in their current state. So why is this any kind of priority for DC’s elected public servants? Why risk the support of their constituents, of whom 64% say they will be less likely to vote for them in the next election should they take unreasonable actions against the I-71 legacy operators?
To be absolutely clear, these businesses are willing to work with the Council on reasonable regulations. The Council needs to understand that while this may not have been their vision of legalization, it has exceeded everyone’s expectations, and under constant duress no less. I-71 has grown into something beautiful and wonderful they should seek to understand and cultivate, not colonize and destroy. Here's The I-71 Committee's press release that goes into much further detail, along with the results of their demographic survey: