Watch Party Dispatch: Marijuana Legalization Activists Celebrate in D.C.

Amanda Teuscher,  The American Prospect

For many, this is the first midterm election they’ve voted in. And Initiative 71, which went on to pass with nearly 70 percent of the vote, is the reason.

The party has just started, but the bar is already packed. “Sixty-one percent!” yells the DJ between songs, to a loud eruption of cheers and applause. Not all DJs will interrupt a party to update everyone on precinct returns. But then, this is Washington, D.C., where post-Election night hangovers are as infamous as New Year’s. And this is the watch party/victory celebration of Initiative 71—the ballot measure that would legalize marijuana possession in the District—and supporters are ready to party.

Polls in the days leading up to the election showed the initiative passing by a two-to-one margin, so for those gathering in the vast lower-level bar of Meridian Pint in Columbia Heights, there is little reason to worry. In fact, hardly anyone is watching the dozen or so televisions along the walls showing CNN and local news election coverage. For many, this is the first midterm election they’ve voted in. And Initiative 71, which will later pass with nearly 70 percent of the vote, is the reason.

The DJ stops the music—a healthy mix of Bob Marley, the Police, and Michael Jackson—so Rachel Morrison, executive director of the nonprofit EFFORTS, can say a few words. Her organization, along with DC Central Kitchen, will be receiving proceeds from the evening’s sale of beer from local brewery DC Brau. She tries to tell the crowd about her nonprofit’s work in helping ex-offenders and recovering substance abusers re-integrate into society and find housing. But the din of laughter and raised voices is too loud. People are having too much fun.

It’s hard to accurately define the crowd (besides maybe “overjoyed”). By appearances alone, it’s certainly diverse, if not unexpected. Middle-aged bike shop regulars, tattooed hipsters, 20-something men in suits, and dread-locked hippies with serene smiles bump elbows with scores of people wearing “Legalize It” T-shirts.

“I’m getting claustrophobic,” says a young man in a suit holding a pint of beer, although he doesn’t seem too upset. No one seems too upset, really. The server navigating trays of mac ’n’ cheese and hamburgers through the shoulder-to-shoulder throng of people might be having a hard night, but the mood is one of celebration.

“We are really blown away by the turnout,” says Caroline Phillips, event producer for the Metropolitan Wellness Center, the medical marijuana dispensary that put on the event with the DC Cannabis Campaign. “It’s really great to see how excited people are about this issue.”

Brandon Skall, co-owner of DC Brau, is at the party. “You look around the room and see all the support that’s here, and you realize it’s a social issue,” he says. “It’s time to stop institutionalizing kids for something all kids try.”

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