It's been an up and down week for Initiative 63, the District of Columbia medical marijuana initiative, but the week and this year's effort ended on a decidedly down note. A day after the Marijuana Policy Project (http://www.mpp.org), the prime mover behind the initiative, announced the DC Board of Elections and Ethics had finally reversed itself and decided that initiative petition gatherers had come up with the required number of valid signatures, a federal appeals court drove a stake through the measure's heart.
"The US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit overturned the victory we had won in a lower court making the Barr Amendment unconstitutional," said MPP director of government relations Steve Fox. The Barr Amendment, named after recently defeated Georgia Congressman Bob Barr, was adopted by Congress in an effort to prevent a medical marijuana victory by preventing the District government from expending any funds for such a move.
"We were surprised by the ruling, because the lower court ruling was so strongly in our favor," Fox told DRCNet. "And the way it came up was a surprise, too. The appeals court was told it needed to rule by September 20 if it wanted to keep the initiative off the ballot because ballots had to be printed. They ruled today, simply vacating the lower court's decision without issuing a full opinion. The fact is, they decided how they wanted to rule, and now they have to write the opinion."
"The DC medical marijuana initiative is dead for this year," said Fox. "Once we see the full decision, our legal team will decide whether an appeal to a higher court is worthwhile."
It had been a long, hard road for Initiative 63. Beginning in July 2001, MPP attempted to begin circulating petitions for the initiative, but the elections board blocked that request because the Barr Amendment blocked the city from spending money to process the initiative. MPP sued in federal court, arguing that the District and federal government actions abridged First Amendment political speech rights. MPP won a favorable ruling in March 2002, but then had to fend off a lawsuit from disgruntled local activists before gathering 38,000 signatures in 25 days. Although only 17,000 valid signatures were needed, the election board attempted to block a vote, claiming that MPP came up short in one too many of the city's wards. MPP challenged the board's count and demonstrated that the board had failed to count hundreds of valid signatures. The Tuesday ruling validated MPP's position and would have allowed the measure to go to the voters. Now it won't, at least not this year.