Is Congress More Concerned With Posturing Than Democracy?

Date: Wed, 13 Oct 1999
Subject: Is Congress More Concerned With Posturing Than Democracy?

DrugSense FOCUS Alert #131 October13, 1999

Washington Post: Is Congress More Concerned With Posturing Than Democracy?



DrugSense FOCUS Alert #131 October13, 1999

While it used to be easy for politicians to take a “zero tolerance”
stand on any illegal drug issue, now their constituents are making
such simple-minded moves much tougher. A recent report from the
Washington Post (below) indicates that many members of congress aren’t
sure whether to kill Washington D.C.’s medical marijuana initiative,
I-59. The measure was passed overwhelmingly by D.C. voters last year,
but the official results of the vote have only recently been
announced, thanks to congressional moves to keep the results a secret.

Now that the world knows how people in the District of Columbia voted,
some in the U.S. Congress want to nullify that vote. Please write a
letter to the Post to express amazement that any elected official
would favor a “tough-on-drugs” stance over supporting the will of the
people. Please also contact your own congressional representatives to
urge them not to kill I-59 by using the links below.

Thanks for your effort and support.


Just DO it!


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This is VERY IMPORTANT as it is the only way we have of gauging our
impact and effectiveness.



Source: Washington Post (DC)

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The Marijuana Policy Project’s version is at:

NORML’s version is at:


Pubdate: Sun, 10 October 1999
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Copyright: 1999 The Washington Post Company
Address: 1150 15th Street Northwest, Washington, DC 20071
Author: Spencer S. Hsu, Washington Post Staff Writer


When 65 percent of Arizona’s voters passed a referendum in 1996
legalizing the medical use of marijuana, U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.)
hit the stump. Over the next two years, the freshman senator argued to
state lawmakers, Congress and local reporters that undoing the state’s
drug laws would betray Arizona children and his own law-and-order values.

State legislators sent the measure back to the ballot last
November–where voters passed it again. Kyl and other opponents could
only console themselves that the margin of approval had narrowed to 57

Now, members of Congress who believe easing state laws on marijuana
would subvert the nation’s war on drugs have a new target: the
District of Columbia’s medical marijuana initiative. For them, this
is a chance to act on their conviction without riling constituents
back home–though some lawmakers seem to be keeping a low profile on
the issue.

Georgia Rep. Robert L. Barr Jr. (R) and Ohio Sen. George V.
Voinovich (R) recently introduced legislation to overturn the D.C.
referendum, which won 69 percent of the vote last fall. Although
Congress has clear authority to oversee the District, members whose
states have passed similar initiatives appear wary of undoing a
decision endorsed by their own constituents.

Nevada Sens. Harry M. Reid (D) and Richard H. Bryan (D) are hedging
questions on the subject. Reid opposed a Nevada initiative passed
last fall, but his spokesman, asked how the lawmaker would vote on the
D.C. initiative, replied, “I’m not sure it’s so simple.” A spokesman
for Bryan responded, “I’m not sure he’s taken a position on that.”
Nevada voters will face the issue again this fall, since all
referendum proposals must be approved twice to become law.

Kyl, who faces a reelection bid next fall, said in 1996 that he was
“embarrassed” by the Arizona vote, but explained later that he was
talking about the margin of defeat, not voters’ judgment. His
spokesman declined to say how Kyl would vote on the District’s
initiative, saying, “It sounds like nothing is pressing until the D.C.
Council acts.”

The District’s Initiative 59 would change city drug laws to allow the
possession, use, cultivation and distribution of marijuana if
recommended by a physician for serious illness. Only six
states–Alaska, Arizona, California, Nevada, Oregon and
Washington–have passed similar legislation, and most of their
congressional representatives have stayed out of the home-state fray,
letting governors and local lawmakers shoulder the debate.

If a vote is taken, it could force Democrats and Republicans to choose
between standing with the majority of their constituents back home or
ignoring similar sentiments by District voters in order to enforce
tough drug laws.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), for example, has opposed
California’s medical marijuana initiative, calling such measures
dangerous and ridden with loopholes. But Feinstein, who also faces a
reelection bid in 2000, said she is sensitive to the needs of
terminally ill patients and will examine the District’s measure before
making a decision.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) would not say how he would vote. He released
a statement explaining that despite his personal “reservations” about
Oregon’s medical marijuana law, “the people of my state have spoken,
and I intend to honor their will.”

The House voted 310 to 93 a year ago to approve a non-binding
resolution opposing state efforts to allow medical use of marijuana.
But Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.), who introduced a companion
resolution, also has not indicated how he will vote on the D.C.
measure, his spokeswoman said.

By law, Congress can negate the District initiative within 30 business
days, once the D.C. financial control board reviews and forwards it.
Congress could also kill the marijuana measure by denying funding.

“It’s a twofold rationale” in Congress for overturning the D.C.
initiative, said Marshall Wittman, director of congressional relations
for the conservative Heritage Foundation. “There is Congress’s clear,
constitutional prerogative over issues concerning the District, but
also many believe in Congress that the District should serve as a
model to the rest of the country.”

Supporters of medical marijuana laws say the drug can alleviate
symptoms of AIDS, cancer and other illnesses. Opponents, including
the White House’s national drug policy office, cite a lack of
conclusive findings about marijuana’s efficacy and current research
into treatment alternatives.

Those who back the D.C. measure decry congressional intervention,
claiming “hypocrisy” by members who protest federal intrusion in their
home states but interfere elsewhere.

“The Republicans, the party of states’ rights, are only for states’
rights when they agree with what a state or the District of Columbia
is doing,” said Rep. Peter A. DeFazio (D-Ore.), who has battled
congressional efforts to undo Oregon’s law permitting
physician-assisted suicide. To Congress, the District is a “sandbox.”

“They can use it for experiments and indulge in things they might want
to do to voters at home, but here they can do with impunity,” he said.

For now, the congressional fight against the D.C. measure is being
led by those whose constituents have not endorsed similar initiatives.
And even for past critics of D.C. statehood and management, the
issue is touchy.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), whose district strongly supported
California’s marijuana referendum, voted against the non-binding
resolution opposing medical marijuana. An aide hinted that his vote
on the D.C. measure would similarly factor in constituent views.

“If he’s faced with this vote on the House floor,” a spokesman said,
“he will look very closely at how conservative Orange County voted on
the California measure.”



While drug war mentality seems to run deep in the U.S. Congress, the
idea that our representatives would simply overturn the will of the
people by voiding I-59, Washington D.C.’s medical marijuana
initiative, is astonishing (“National Agendas Color D.C. Marijuana
Debate,” Oct. 10). It was bad enough that Congress tried to hide the
results of the election, but now that we all know it passed
overwhelmingly, it is time for elected officials at the national level
to rake a moment to think about how they got where they are.

Instead of calculating political costs and benefits, I suggest that
each member of Congress dust off their copies of The Declaration of
Independence. “…Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their
just powers from the consent of the governed…” If I-59 was a radical
departure from sentiments of other voters around the nation, maybe
Georgia Rep. Robert L. Barr Jr. (R) and Ohio Sen. George V.
Voinovich (R) might be justified in their attempt to kill the measure.
But medical marijuana initiatives have passed easily in every state
where they have been introduced.

The voters of Washington D.C. are in touch with other voters around
the country. Barr and Voinovich are not. If their efforts to stamp out
democracy are supported by a majority of the Congress, maybe it’s time
for the people to take a cue from The Declaration of Independence,
since Barr, Voinovich and congressmen who share their contempt for
voters feel entitled enough to stand above the document.

Stephen Young

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