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ACT-UP Gathering Signatures for Medical Marijuana Initiative in Washington, D.C., Billionaire Steve Forbes Announces Counter Effort


August 1997

AIDS activists in Washington, D.C. are circulating petitions to put a medical marijuana measure (Initiative 57) on the ballot in 1998. They must collect 16,763 signatures by December 8 to qualify for the ballot. Members of ACT UP, the AIDS activist group that is leading the petition effort, told NewsBriefs that they have collected about one-third of the signatures needed as of August 28.

If passed, the initiative would allow patients suffering from HIV/AIDS, glaucoma, muscle spasms, cancer therapy and other serious illness to use marijuana when recommended by a licensed physician. Known as the Legalization of Marijuana for Medical Treatment Initiative of 1997, the measure would allow seriously ill individuals to possess, use, and cultivate medical marijuana. Finally, it would require the Commissioner of Public Health to propose a plan for distribution of medical marijuana to patients enrolled in approved programs.

Billionaire publisher and 1996 GOP presidential hopeful Steve Forbes announced he would fund a campaign opposing the measure. Through his organization Americans for Hope, Growth and Opportunity, Forbes reportedly funded radio ads attacking the D.C. medical marijuana, as well as radio ads opposing a similar initiative in Washington state. Forbes also sent letters to Administration and Congressional officials, asking them to actively oppose the initiative. Steve Michael, a spokesperson for ACT UP, called Forbes' efforts a "cheap shot" to attract attention to another run for the GOP presidential nomination ("Forbes brings anti-drug blitz to D.C.," Washington Times, July 20, 1997, p. A9).

On July 22, Gen. Barry McCaffrey, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, said the Clinton Administration opposes the all medical marijuana initiatives. "We must not send a mixed message to our youth about the dangers of marijuana," said McCaffrey. In an op-ed in the Washington Times, McCaffrey wrote, "Initiative 57 undercuts the safeguards established over the years by federal Pure Food and Drug laws (Press Release, "President's Drug policy Advisor Writes D.C. Leaders, Reiterates Administration's Opposition to Drug-Legalizing," Office of National Control Policy, July 22, 1997; "White House Decries Efforts In D.C. to Legalize Marijuana," Washington Post, July 23, 1997, p. B5; Barry R. McCaffrey, "District doesn't need marijuana initiative," Washington Times, July 24, 1997, p. C2).

Office of National Drug Control Policy - 750 17th Street, NW, 8th Floor, Washington, DC 20006, Tel: (202) 395-6618, Fax: (202) 467-9808.

ACT UP/Initiative 57 Campaign Headquarters - 825 5th St., NE, Suite A, Washington, D.C. 20002, Tel: (202) 547-9404.

Americans for Hope, Growth and Opportunity - Joel Rosenberg, Tel: (703) 925-9281, E-mail:, Web: