From F Street House to Pennsylvania Avenue, this week’s headlines all have one thing in common – politics and power. In two moves that should leave District residents healthier and wealthier, the D.C. Council and Mayor Muriel Bowser expanded access to medical marijuana and raised the city’s minimum wage.
Meanwhile, the aspiring politicians of the Student Association are facing the aftermath of an attempt to force SA President Christian Zidouemba from office. And University President Mark Wrighton’s response to students’ demands to fire U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas leaves room for improvement.
Here’s the best and worst of this week’s headlines:
Mayor Bowser signed into law Wednesday a bill that the D.C. Council unanimously approved last week allowing D.C. residents over the age of 21 to “self-certify” their need for medical marijuana after passing a similar bill in February for patients over the age of 65 to self-certify. The legislation makes it easier for D.C. residents to obtain medical marijuana, particularly those without the time or finances to get a doctor’s recommendation to do so.
The ability to self-certify also marks a de facto expansion of recreational marijuana in the District without any explicit enforcement mechanism in place for the self-medication process and subsequent marijuana use. Whether they’re looking for medical or – “medical” – marijuana, customers going through legal dispensaries could drive business away from the unregulated shops of the District’s cannabis gray market while the sale of recreational marijuana remains illegal. This bill seems like a good step forward to basically legalizing recreational marijuana, albeit with extra steps. And with any luck, and perhaps D.C. statehood – which would allow the District to determine its own laws without federal oversight – recreational marijuana can actually become legal.
As of last Friday, D.C.’s minimum wage increased from $15.20 to $16.10 per hour for non-tipped employees, including GW’s student employees. “The Fight for $15 didn’t end at $15,” Bowser said in a press release last week, and it’s reassuring to see her following through with these changes after she approved the Fair Shot Minimum Wage in 2016.
But hourly pay for tipped employees, like waiters and bartenders, only increased from $5.05 to $5.35 per hour. That’s certainly better than the federal minimum tipped wage of $2.13, though it’s not enough to make a living – the slight increase in tipping for some workers during the COVID-19 pandemic may be waning with a recent increase in inflation. Fortunately, D.C. residents will have the chance to raise the tipped minimum wage further to $16.10 per hour when they vote on Initiative 82 this November.
The U.S. House committee on Jan. 6 isn’t the only legislature in town investigating threats to our democracy – and that’s the problem. Members of the Student Association seem to be taking themselves a little too seriously after an attempt to oust SA President Christian Zidouemba from office. But after two nights of testimony before the SA Senate, it seems like Zidouemba will continue in his position. Members of the SA’s executive cabinet voted last Friday to permanently remove Zidouemba from his position and appoint Vice President Yan Xu in his place in an acting capacity. But not so fast – Xu and Communications Director Aiza Saeed retracted their votes, and a wave of resignations followed as Zidouemba retained the presidency. SA members allege that Zidouemba’s mishandling of an open letter calling on officials to fire U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas from GW was the last straw in a line of poor leadership marked by a “hostile” work environment and threats of termination.
The SA is ostensibly meant to distribute funds to GW’s hundreds of clubs, represent the student body and work with officials to achieve concrete goals like expanding SafeRide or bringing U-Pass to GW – not dive headfirst into an embarrassing power struggle. I’m not sure what this achieved beyond making more students equally tired of and amused by the SA’s sophomoric, overgrown student council antics. It’s summer – don’t they have something better to do?
Looking toward more mature leadership, Wrighton shared his thoughts about the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade last month with the GW community in an email Friday. Describing it as a “significant moment in history,” he stated, “As president of our University, I believe it is important to recognize this pain and share the University’s support for women and for all members of our community.”
I’m glad that someone is finally recognizing how the Supreme Court’s decision has affected students, staff, faculty and alumni, but that support – which Wrighton said officials would soon share – has yet to materialize. What’s the delay? The court’s decision leaked in early May, and The Hatchet’s editorial board soon after called on the University to help students through institutional resources like Counseling and Psychological Services and the Office of Advocacy and Support. Officials have had plenty of time to craft statements and develop GW’s response in a way that puts this community first – here’s hoping we hear something soon.
Ethan Benn, a rising junior majoring in journalism and communication, is the opinions editor.