In its rush to approve a budget and go home to campaign, Congress scuttled a D.C. referendum that would have let District residents decide whether to approve the use of medicinal marijuana. In a city that is supposed to be the center of democratic government, Congress1 interference in the District1s affairs is an attack on democracy. It is another in a long string of Congressional meddling and indifference to District residents and their concerns.
A congressional rider to the budget bill banned funds in the fiscal year 1999 D.C. budget from being spent on the medicinal marijuana initiative. Initiatives ratified by voters still need to be certified by the city1s Board of Elections and Ethics. Congressional interference effectively prevents the board from counting and certifying the results. Even if everyone in the city voted to approve the initiative on election day, the law could not be implemented.
Congress also tucked away in the massive budget bill a provision that bans the use of federal funds for needle-exchange programs in D.C. The provision has forced Washington1s Whitman-Walker Clinic to turn over its three-year-old needle-exchange program to a private group. Whitman-Walker swaps 17,000 dirty needles for clean ones every month in an attempt to stem the spread of HIV.
District residents1 rights consistently are sidestepped by Congress. The right of citizens to vote on a referendum that affects their lives has been taken away solely because they live in a city with no voting representative on Capitol Hill. Members of Congress, who are not accountable to District residents, have trampled on the basic essence of democracy – allowing people to choose.