One of the drug reform movement's few successes this election year, Washington, DC's Measure 62, which would send some drug offenders to treatment instead of prison, passed with a hefty 78% of the vote. As the measure's backers seek to fund and shape the way the program is carried out, many battles remain, but they won one last week and another this week. On November 15, a DC Superior Court judge refused to grant the city government's request for a temporary restraining order seeking to block certification of the vote.
The lawsuit filed by the administration of DC Mayor Anthony Williams (D) charged that the initiative was improper because it required the District to allocate and expend funds for treatment for nonviolent drug users who qualify under the proposal. Under District law, initiatives cannot do that. But in her ruling, Judge Jeannette Clark doubted that the District could prevail in its case and said in was not in the public interest to keep the DC Board of Elections and Ethics (BOEE) from certifying the vote.
On Thursday, the BOEE voted to certify the election results, making official the DC Campaign for Treatment's (http://www.dcmeasure62.org) overwhelming victory. Now comes the hard part. While the court ruling last week prevented the initiative from being stopped in its tracks, the District government's lawsuit is still pending, with a trial date set for January 10. Then there is getting the money to pay for drug treatment, and creating a treatment regime that works, meanwhile fending off any attempts from Congress to kill the measure as it killed medical marijuana in the District.
But backers of the new law say it is not about allocating funds, and are asking the mayor to drop the lawsuit. "We are respectfully requesting that the mayor drop his suit, support the voters' will, and help us to ensure that Congress does not overturn the will of the people," said Opio Sokoni, implementation coordinator for the DC Campaign.
"It doesn't allocate funds," said Bill McColl, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance (http://www.drugpolicy.org), parent body to the DC Campaign. "One of the things we're doing now is trying to find those funds. We will go to Congress, we will go to the city, and we are looking for grants from private foundations that may be willing to fund drug treatment programs here in the nation's capital," McColl told DRCNet.
"The city is running a huge budget deficit, which could have a bearing on why the mayor is so sensitive to the funding issue," McColl explained, "but we think that providing treatment for the 300 people we estimate would avoid prison sentences under this measure in its first year would only cost $2.5 million, and the District should be able to come up with that out of savings in its prison budget. Residents of the District voted for this in record numbers, and now we're ready to work with the Mayor, the District Council, Representative Norton, Congress, the DC court system, District residents and anyone else to implement this initiative."
"We are confident that Congress will support the will of DC voters and allow this important initiative to become law," said Sokoni. Congress took repeated action to block the District's 1998 medical marijuana initiative, and Campaign organizers hence took deliberate steps to make the initiative more palatable to drug war zealots on Capitol Hill. Because of congressional obsession with marijuana, the DC measure does not apply to people caught with any Schedule One drugs, including not only marijuana, but also drugs such as LSD, ecstasy and cocaine, which is widely used in the District.
Provided that the District or Congress provide funding, or at least that Congress does not move to block the initiative, sponsors will still need to craft an implementation regime. The measure is set to go into effect October 1 next year, said McColl, and the Campaign is scrambling to get effective drug treatment in place by then. "We are beginning to hold talks with the District drug addiction agency and with treatment providers," he said. "We need the Williams administration to work together with us on this to improve the health and safety of District residents," he said.
In the meantime, the measure now moves to the DC City Council, which will then send it on to Congress. Once that occurs, Congress has 30 working days to stop the bill from becoming District law. But with Rep. Bob Barr, the self-appointed savior of the District from itself and nemesis of the medical marijuana initiatives, having been retired by his home state voters, it remains to be seen if any other congressional drug warriors care enough to try to block it.