Congress Begins Effort to Harm Patients, Undermine Democratic Process in DC

September 29, 1999 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON — A House committee today began the process of trying to undo the results of a free and fair election on a lawful initiative in which an overwhelming majority of District of Columbia voters approved the medical use of marijuana.

“Once again, some members of Congress have decided that tending to their own pet peeves is more important than honoring the very democratic principles that enable them to serve our nation,” said Mary Jane DeFrank, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of the National Capital Area.

“How tragic that extremely ill and suffering District residents will not be able to keep life-sustaining medication down because individuals in Congress with other agendas seek to make cancer patients and other District residents their political plaything,” DeFrank added.

More than 30 medical groups have endorsed “prescriptive access” to marijuana, under a physician’s supervision. Voters in Alaska, Arizona, California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington state have passed similar medical use initiatives, yet only in the District of Columbia has Congress sought to overturn the initiative.

“Far from being out of step with the rest of the country, District voters have joined a growing national trend reflecting a caring and compassionate response by American voters to pleas from patients suffering with cancer, glaucoma, AIDS, and other serious illnesses,” said Christopher Anders, a legislative counsel with the ACLU’s Washington National Office. “It is time for politicians to stop putting political grandstanding above medicine and public health.”

The ACLU said the DC initiative does not legalize marijuana in general, nor make marijuana available to everyone. Instead, it applies only to medical use and then only with a physician’s recommendation.

The American Medical Association has supported the right of physicians to recommend prescriptive use of marijuana.

“This initiative has nothing to do with legalizing marijuana or any other drug,” DeFrank said. “It simply makes available a vital medical treatment when a physician says that treatment should be done.

“If these lawmakers were the ones unable to continue chemotherapy or otherwise keep food down because of constant vomiting, they might have more compassion for the patients who started and won the voters’ support for allowing this life-preserving treatment,” DeFrank added.

The medical use initiative was approved in each of the District’s 140 precincts.

“Our nation has long been a standard bearer of democracy to the world,” said Arthur Spitzer, Legal Director of the ACLU of the National Capital Area. “Congress should not now demonstrate to the world its contempt for democracy in our nation’s capital.”

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