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Clinton D.C. budget veto sparks partisan war

(Published October 4, 1999)


Staff Writer

President Bill Clinton’s Sept. 28 veto of the D.C. budget sparked a partisan war of words on Capitol Hill with Republicans claiming Clinton and the Democrats want to legalize marijuana and Democrats castigating Republicans for violating the District’s home rule.

In a letter to the House of Representatives accompanying his veto, Clinton said he opposed the numerous "social riders" attached to the spending bill, including spending prohibitions against needle-exchange programs, health care for domestic partners, efforts to seek congressional voting representation for the District. The bill also sought to block any action to implement the medical marijuana initiative voters passed in last fall’s election.

Republican leaders seized on the medical marijuana issue and held it up as the reason Clinton vetoed the bill.

"This is about legalizing drugs in the nation’s capital and using that as a stepping stone for the rest of the country," Rep. Ernst Istook, R-Okla., chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee for the District of Columbia, said in a statement after the veto. "Every police officer, every teacher and every parent who has ever fought against drugs should be crying today."

Both sides showed up to do battle Sept. 29 when Istook held a hearing on the effects of legalizing marijuana on law enforcement efforts in the District.

Istook fired the first salvos in his opening statement.

Clinton "doesn’t truly care about ‘home rule.’" Istook said. "He and most others who hide behind a cry of ‘home rule’ care only about supporting a liberal social agenda — legalizing drugs, free needles for drug addicts, treating unmarried couples as though they were married and so forth."

Northern Virginia Congressman James Moran, the only Democratic member of the committee who showed up for the hearing, fired back the Democrats’ official position on the veto.

"It’s really taking a position that the voters of the District of Columbia have a right to express themselves in a democratic election," Moran said. "We should respect that right and treat the District of Columbia’s citizens as we would voters in our own congressional districts."

Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., along with Moran, took issue with the hearing taking place in an appropriations committee, saying that a matter of law should properly be heard before the judiciary committee. Norton went on to defend D.C. voters’ overwhelming approval of Initiative 59, which was passed by 69 percent of the voters in last November’s general election and won approval in every voting precinct.

"I refuse to sit by while the people of the District are slurred or marginalized as druggies or soft on drugs, any more than the members of the body would allow that implication to be raised for residents of Alaska, Arizona, California, Nevada, Oregon or Washington, the six states which have passed similar initiatives," Norton said.

Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., who introduced the rider to the D.C. budget that would prevent the District from implementing Initiative 59, characterized D.C. voters’ approval as "thumbing their noses at the federal government."

Despite Istook’s stated purpose for his hearing, it often turned into a debate on the merits of marijuana for medicinal purposes. At one point, Moran grilled the deputy director of the Office of National Drug Control Police about a study published by the Institute of Medicine that studied the good and bad effects of marijuana.

The most telling testimony on the subject of the medical marijuana initiative and its possible impact on law enforcement came from Assistant Chief Brian Jordan of the Metropolitan Police Department.

"Until these procedures (for regulating the distribution of medical marijuana) have been finalized, it would be difficult for me to speculate on the possible impact the medical marijuana initiative might have on law enforcement and public safety in the District of Columbia," said Jordan, who heads up the District’s Major Narcotics Bureau.

Copyright 1999, The Common Denominator