Update: Medical marijuana in Washington, D.C.
Citing the rights of DC residents to make "their own decisions about local matters," President Bill Clinton has vetoed the DC Appropriations Bill, in part because it included a congressional ban on medical marijuana. Last November DC residents overwhelmingly approved an initiative legalizing medical marijuana. Congress initially blocked the counting of the ballots until a U.S. District Court judge ordered the vote be counted, released, and certified in late September. As expected, sixty-nine percent of DC voters approved the initiative.
"Voiding and overriding a democratic election is something one might expect from a banana republic, but not the capitol of the free world," said Keith Stroup, NORML Executive Director.
Under the terms of the law granting partial home rule to the District, Congress has 30 work days to override the initiative or it becomes law. The Republican controlled Congress is expected to promptly approve an override. A bill to accomplish that has already been introduced by Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA), who sponsored the earlier legislation prohibiting the vote from being counted. The House Appropriations Subcommittee for the District of Columbia, chaired by a self-proclaimed foe of medical marijuana, Rep. Ernest Istook (R-OK), held hearings on the impact of the initiative on law enforcement. As expected, the Republicans stacked the hearing with several law enforcement officials who oppose medical marijuana use, while the Democrats were only permitted to invite one witness. Rep. James Moran (D-VA), ranking Democrat on the subcommittee, invited Keith B. Vines, Esq., Assistant District Attorney for the city and county of San Francisco. Vines has lived both sides of the debate, as he not only prosecutes drug cases, but also suffers from AIDS wasting syndrome and has used marijuana for medical reasons. Vines testified, "The voters in the District recognize what every nationwide poll has shown - that Americans recognize that seriously ill persons deserve every medicine, including the politically unpopular as well as the dangerous ones, if those medications will improve the quality of their lives." "Please understand that people like me need marijuana to stay alive and to get healthy, not to get high," Vines said. "Don't let me and people like me be collateral damage in the war on drugs."