Medical marijuana users and the Marijuana Policy Project won a major victory in federal court in Washington on Thursday when the court threw out Rep. Bob Barr's (R-GA) amendment to the District of Columbia appropriations bill. The Barr amendment blocked the DC government from spending funds for a medical marijuana initiative. MPP immediately announced that it was kick-starting a medical marijuana initiative petition drive to put the issue on the District ballot in November.
"MPP originally filed our initiative with the DC government in July. After delaying for five months, the government blocked us from moving forward with the initiative because of the so-called Barr Amendment -- so we sued them," wrote MPP executive director Rob Kampia in a statement announcing the decision. "Barr and his congressional allies tried to prevent our medical marijuana initiative from getting onto the local ballot, and we beat them."
US District Judge Emmet Sullivan was unequivocal in declaring the Barr amendment unconstitutional. "There can be no doubt that the Barr Amendment restricts plaintiffs' First Amendment right to engage in political speech," he wrote before ordering the DC government to allow MPP's ballot drive to proceed.
Barr has made blocking the District's residents from exercising their constitutional rights on the medical marijuana issue a personal crusade. When District voters went to the polls for a medical marijuana initiative in 1998, Barr blocked the District from counting the votes. It took eighteen months and a lawsuit for Washington residents to discover that they had approved medical marijuana by a margin of 69% to 21%. But Barr blocked the vote from being implemented and has offered language in each appropriations bill since then to similarly nullify democracy in the nation's capital.
Time is short to get an initiative on the ballot, wrote Kampia. "With today's victory in court, we have less than two months to gather 16,000 valid signatures -- meaning we need 25,000 total signatures --to place our medical marijuana question on the ballot this November. If we do not gather the signatures in time, all of this will have been a wasted effort."
According to Kampia, an initiative in the District could lead to the first congressional debate on the merits of medical marijuana. "Someone in Congress will introduce a motion to overturn the medical marijuana initiative, and our supporters in Congress will stand up for the rights of DC voters and medical marijuana patients, as they have done before," Kampia prophesied. "And the medical marijuana debate will play out in Congress... on national TV... for the first time ever."
And all of this will cost money. Kampia is looking for donations totaling $50,000 to pay dozens of petitioners for the intensive effort. Potential donors may visit http://www.mpp.org/lawsuit/ online.