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Majority of DC Council Members Sign Petition for Medical Marijuana Measure in Nation's Capital


November-December 1997

A majority of the members of Washington, DC Council have signed the petition to place Initiative 57, a medical marijuana initiative, on the ballot at the next District-wide election (Press Release, "Ward One's Frank Smith signs 57! A majority of DC Councilmembers say yes to a DC vote on Rx Marijuana," ACT-UP press release, November 17, 1997; "D.C.," USA Today, November 12, 1997, p. 21A; Stephen Dinan and Ronald J. Hansen, "A small, shivering army fights for medicinal pot use," Washington Times, December 8, 1997, p. A1).

If passed by District voters, Initiative 57 would provide a legal defense to seriously ill patients, such as persons suffering from cancer and AIDS, from criminal prosecution in the use of small amounts of medical marijuana. The local AIDS advocacy group ACT UP Washington is the primary sponsor of Initiative 57, working in coalition with volunteers from the DC Green Party, the Statehood Party, and Democratic party activists. Organizers have until December 8 to collect approximately 17,000 signatures of DC registered voters in order to place Initiative 57 on the September, 1998 primary ballot.

DC officials who have signed the petitions include: DC Council Chair Linda Cropp, Judiciary Committee Chair Jack Evans (Ward 2), Human Services Committee Chair Sandy Allen (Ward 8), Education Committee Chair Kevin Chavous (Ward 7), Council Vice-Chair Charlene Drew Jarvis (Ward 4), Finance and Revenue Committee Chair Frank Smith (Ward 1), At-Large Council member Arrington Dixon, and newly elected At-Large Council member David Catania (R). Former DC Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly added her name to petition sheets at a recent Home Rule demonstration. DC's `shadow' Senators who lobby Congress for full voting representation for DC residents, Paul Strauss, and Florence Pendleton, have also signed Initiative 57. Current Mayor Marion Barry announced during his weekly press conference that he had signed and would probably vote in favor of Initiative 57.

In an op-ed in the Washington Post, ACT-UP leaders Steve Michael and Wayne Turner wrote, "For those of us on the front lines of the AIDS epidemic, where the devastating impact of addiction and substance abuse is a daily reality, nothing less than a tightly crafted initiative, permitting strictly medical use, could be introduced for the approval of DC voters" (Wayne Turner and Steve Michael, "Marijuana For Medicine, Not Abuse," Washington Post, November 5, 1997, p. A21).

The local, all volunteer efforts of AIDS activists has generated considerable national attention. Former presidential candidate, Republican Steve Forbes, has purchased thousands of dollars of airtime on area radio stations opposing the measure. "Drug czar" Gen. Barry McCaffery has also vocally opposed the initiative.

On December 8, ACT-UP, turned in about 21,000 signatures to the DC Board of Elections, Wayne Turner told NewsBriefs. Turner said ACT-UP is planning to work with the ACLU to contest the number of registered voters in the District. ACT-UP had to collect signatures from 5% of the city's registered voters to qualify the initiative. Turner said the city claims there are about 340,000 registered voters, but ACT-UP believes the number may be as small as 250,000.

The AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT-UP) - 409 H Street, NE, Washington, DC 20002, Tel: (202) 547-9404, E-mail:

DC Board of Elections - (202) 727-2525.