Pubdate: Thu, 23 Sep 1999
Source: Capital Times, The  (WI)
Copyright: 1999 The Capital Times
Author: John Nichols


American Democracy, Thomas Jefferson allowed, will always be threatened by
tyrants. And nowhere is the threat more evident today than in the city where
Jefferson served two terms as president of the United States.

We're not talking here about the standard denial of democracy that
characterizes affairs in the nation's capitol of Washington, where Congress
continues to deny 600,000 residents full representation in the U.S. Senate
and the U.S. House of Representatives.

No, we're talking about a recent development that, by any reasonable
measure, qualifies as the most egregious assault on the electoral rights of
the citizenry since racist "Jim Crow'' laws were eliminated some 35 years ago.

Last November, the citizens of Washington, D.C., were asked to decide
whether marijuana could be prescribed for medicinal purposes. It has long
been established that marijuana has beneficial effects for cancer patients,
glaucoma sufferers and people with AIDS. It has long been established, as
well, that the overwhelming majority of Americans -- 80 percent in some
surveys -- believe that doctors should be allowed to prescribe the drug to
patients in need.

When medical marijuana initiatives are placed on the ballot they invariably
win, despite the opposition of the "just-say-know-nothing'' drug warriors in
the Clinton administration and the Congress. The voters of Alaska, Arizona,
California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington have voted to legalize medical
marijuana, and referendum campaigns and legislative initiatives are being
organized in dozens of additional states.

So the District of Columbia vote seemed like pretty much of a done deal.
Citizens would go to the polls and express their opinion, and a few very
sick people in Washington would get some relief from their aches and pains.

Then came Bob Barr.

Barr, the Republican congressman from Georgia who divides his time between
attacking Bill Clinton's infidelities and trying to prevent the revelation
of his own infidelities, is a classic Drug Warrior. Cynical, uninformed and
powerful, he got Congress -- which oversees the affairs of the District of
Columbia -- to block a count of the vote on the D.C. referendum.

Barr allowed as how, "Marijuana remains illegal under federal law, and it
would send a terrible message to America's young people to allow those laws
to be openly flouted in the same city where they were passed.''

So, on the argument that a failed and costly drug war is more important than
democracy, Barr and his colleagues prevented the votes from last November's
election from being counted -- until last week.

That's when U.S. District Judge Richard W. Roberts ruled that preventing the
counting of ballots in an election was, well, illegal.

So the votes were counted and, as predicted, the people of the District of
Columbia decided by a margin of 75,536 to 34,621 that medical marijuana
should be legal.

At which point Barr announced: "The results of the referendum do not change
my determination to ensure our nation's capital does not legalize any
mind-altering drugs, including marijuana.''

Translation: Democracy be damned.

- ---
MAP posted-by: Jo-D