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A Very Risky Proposal: Legalizing Marijuana in the Name of Medicine

Wednesday, October 21, 1998
Statement from the Metropolitan Police Department

On November 3rd, residents of the District of Columbia will vote on a proposal to legalize the cultivation, distribution and use of marijuana in our city, all in the name of medicine. As well intentioned as Ballot Initiative #59 may first appear—to ease the suffering of people with serious illnesses—a closer look reveals this measure to be extremely risky public policy that threatens both public health and public safety.

That's why, as a police officer and a parent, I am joining dozens of community, law enforcement, scientific and medical organizations in opposing this dangerous and misguided attempt to legalize marijuana in our Nation's Capital. Our reasons are based on sound science and common sense.

  • Medicine in the U.S. should be based on science, not on popular votes.
    I am a police officer, not a medical expert. But I do know that decisions about medicine should be based on scientific research, not on ballot initiatives. Initiative #59 circumvents the rigorous research, testing and approval process for medicine that the Food and Drug Administration has established to ensure the health and safety of the American public. This back-door approach to regulating medicine not only endangers public health in the short term. It also sets a dangerous precedent for future attempts to legalize as medicine other substances that are scientifically unproven and potentially harmful. Truly compassionate medicine must be based on science, and prescribed and monitored by physicians and other health care professionals, not voters.
  • Initiative #59 would increase the availability of illegal marijuana on the streets of DC.
    Our city already endures far too much marijuana—and far too much marijuana-related violence. The recent indictments of the notorious K Street Crew in Southwest offer vivid proof of that. We also endure far too many people coming into our city to purchase marijuana and other illegal drugs. That number will only increase if Washington, DC, becomes the only jurisdiction in the metropolitan area to legalize marijuana under the pretext of medicine. Initiative #59 would allow District residents to form not-for-profit corporations for the purpose of growing and distributing marijuana in our city, and it would place no limits on the quantities of marijuana that could be grown, sold or possessed. This is a sure-fire prescription for more marijuana, more illegal use and more marijuana-related violence in our neighborhoods.
  • Initiative #59 would make existing marijuana laws in the District all but unenforceable.
    Preventing the illegal sale and use of marijuana in our city is already difficult enough. If Initiative #59 becomes law, rigorous marijuana enforcement will become next to impossible. The safeguards against fraud and abuse in this proposal are so lax as to render our current marijuana laws all but unenforceable. Consider, for example, that the measure would require someone to have only a doctor's "oral recommendation" to use marijuana—not a prescription or other documented paper trail. It would allow any "patient" to designate up to four "primary caregivers" who would be permitted to possess and distribute marijuana. And it would place absolutely no limits on the quantity or potency of the marijuana these individuals may possess. In short, the measure provides adequate cover -- in the name of medicine - for offenders whose real purpose is to manufacture, distribute and abuse marijuana. Legalization would seriously hamstring the efforts of police and communities to rid our neighborhoods of this dangerous drug and the serious crime problems associated with it.
  • The initiative sends absolutely the wrong message to our young people—at absolutely the wrong time.
    Young people today already receive enough conflicting information and images about illegal drugs—from their peers, from the mass media, from their everyday experiences. Legalization of marijuana for supposedly medical purposes only muddies the waters even more. It says to young people that smoking marijuana is not only not harmful, but actually has some positive medicinal value—a claim that no objective scientific inquiry has demonstrated thus far. At a time when high school drug use is on the rise in our country, and teens' attitudes toward drugs are becoming more lax, we need to be unequivocal in our message about marijuana: it is an increasingly potent, dangerous and illegal substance that threatens our health and safety. Initiative #59 undermines these critical education and prevention messages.

Six months ago, I pledged to make Washington, DC, the safest major city in America. To achieve this goal, the Metropolitan Police Department needs tough and enforceable laws against marijuana and other dangerous drugs. And we need the strong support of the community in solving and preventing the tremendous crime problems we face.

Passage of Ballot Initiative #59 would be a dangerous step backwards in the fight against crime in our Nation's Capital. It would weaken our efforts to remove illegal marijuana from the streets of our city and stem the crime and violence that are all too often associated with this dangerous drug. And it would undermine our critical, long-range drug education and prevention efforts. For the safety of our communities, and the health and well-being of our children, District voters should reject Ballot Initiative #59 on November 3rd.