On Nov. 3, millions of Americans went to the polls and exercised one of their most basic rights as citizens – the right to vote.
However, while voters in the 50 states were able to have their voices heard, voters in our nation’s capital were not so fortunate. Their voices were silenced days before the election when Congress, using its budgetary powers over the District, attached a rider to this year’s budget deal snuffing out Washington, D.C.’s Initiative 59, a popularly supported ballot initiative that would have legalized marijuana for medical purposes.
This action by Congress has proven that our nation’s leaders are willing to subvert democracy in order to win the “War on Drugs.”
The rider, introduced by Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.), prohibits funds in the FY 1999 D.C. budget from being spent on Initiative 59, and was intended to prevent the ballots for the initiative from being printed, counted or certified. However, since the ballots had already been printed well ahead of time, D.C. residents did, in fact, get the chance to vote on Initiative 59.
Exit polling suggests the initiative was approved by approximately 69 percent of those who voted. Although the ballots were automatically tabulated by machine, the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics has so far refused to release or certify the results of the election, fearing that either of these actions could violate the terms of the congressional rider. The issue is in federal court and will not be decided until mid-December at the earliest.
Congress’ use of a budgetary trick to invalidate a legitimate initiative was clearly an anti-democratic act. Asked in an interview with Reason magazine why he did not feel the residents of D.C. should be able to decide on Initiative 59 for themselves, Rep. Barr snapped back that, “The American people don’t want federal money used to hold a referendum on the use of mind-altering drugs.”
Clearly, Congress has placed a higher priority on winning the war on drugs than on upholding the principles of democracy. Wayne Turner, head of the Yes on 59! Campaign in the District, summed up the situation best when he told Reason, “This isn’t Serbia.”
-The writer is vice president of the GW College Libertarians.