David Borden, Executive Director, [email protected], 9/20/02
This morning I heard the sad news that DC's new medical marijuana initiative would not make the ballot after all. The effort to merely have our votes on this issue in DC recognized as votes has been a long and tortured one, a "Homer's Odyssey" as organizers at the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), sponsors of this year's initiative campaign, have described it.
The news is sad for multiple reasons. First and foremost, patients need the help; they and their providers aren't criminals, and they don't deserve to be subject to the whims of law enforcement and politicians who can attack them at any time under a thin and unconvincing guise of law.
Second, I personally helped gather signatures for Initiative 63, not as head of a drug reform organization, but as a resident and citizen of the District. I wanted to do my part personally to help with this.
Third is the manner in which this setback to medical marijuana took place. MPP had successfully petitioned a federal court to overturn the "Barr Amendment," an outrageously unconstitutional appropriations clause that forbids the DC government from even having an initiative on the ballot to reduce marijuana penalties. The amendment allows initiatives to increase penalties. The court found that allowing votes promoting only one point of view on an issue but not others is a violation of the 1st amendment.
Today news arrived that a higher federal court had overturned this ruling -- "coincidentally" just in time to keep it off the ballot this year, regardless of what the Supreme Court ultimately decides. The judges' reasons for allowing the Barr amendment have not yet been published. But it is patently absurd on its face.
So it is that larger issue that is on my mind today -- a heartless drug war ideology that subjugates and abuses even the seriously ill, has corrupted the very ideals of democracy itself. We can no longer truly claim to be a nation of laws, when our Constitution and its guarantee of freedom of speech can be so callously disregarded by the judiciary that is supposed to safeguard that cornerstone of our way of life.
The problem goes far beyond one pathetic ruling by a visionless panel of tainted judges. Simply, the drug war ideology has undermined the integrity of our political system as a whole. From police perjury as an expected, accepted part of law enforcement, to forfeiture of the property of innocents without evidence, to drug testing of chess club members and privacy eroded beyond what the founders would recognize as appropriate or rational, the "drug exception" to the former American way of life is a poison skewing our nation's ideals and weakening its commitment to freedom. Today's ruling is sad for patients but is also sad in its ominous implications for democracy itself.
In February of next year, DRCNet will convene the first major event in our international conference series, "Out from the Shadows: Ending Drug Prohibition in the 21st Century," in the city of Mérida, capital of the Yucatán state of Mexico (http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/shadows/). Other events await, pending funding, in Europe, Canada, Australia or New Zealand, and a major global summit here in the US. One of several objectives of the conference series is to illustrate the extent to which the US has isolated itself on drug issues from its allies in the free world, having much more in common today with the dictatorships and pseudo-democracies oppressing their subjects in the un-free.
Seen in that light, DC's medical marijuana initiative, and the patients it would help, are victims of the anti-democratic impulse inherent in the drug war. This idea is not stated here in order to link the limited, though important issue of medical marijuana, with the larger, less politically advanced idea of legalization. Medical marijuana is its own issue.
But medical marijuana is also a casualty, one of many, of the war on drugs. Another such casualty is respect for, and adherence to, our Constitution and our democracy itself. Law is invoked by drug warriors to justify their rampages against the seriously ill, but in reality is ignored or devalued when obeying the law would restrain their excesses and cruelties or expose their moral bankruptcy.
We who oppose the drug war are patriots, but patriots with understanding. Today we cannot prevent a suspect court from stabbing DC's election in the back. But we have a vision that is right and just and faithful to the ideals and impulses that mankind espouses at its best. Time will consign the drug war to the dustbin of history. Our great cause is making that day come sooner rather than later, and so it will.