A move within the D.C. Council to reverse an earlier vote and ban all sales of drug paraphernalia in Washington appeared to be gaining support yesterday, as a coalition of civic groups stepped up a lobbying campaign, saying a partial ban tentatively approved two weeks ago is inadequate.
The council is scheduled to take a second vote on the paraphernalia bill today, along with a controversial no-fault auto insurance measure that is facing a strong effort by opponents to delay consideration of the issue while a task force studies insurance costs.
The partial ban on paraphernalia sales approved by voice vote two weeks ago would prohibit all sales to minors, forbid sales by street or sidewalk vendors and impose a new $250 license fee for paraphernalia businesses.
The bill was criticized yesterday by the D.C. Coalition for Drug-Free Youths, which said at a District Building press conference that Washington would become the only jurisdiction in the metropolitan area to regulate, rather than ban outright, such sales.
"The District of Columbia has a drug epidemic that mirrors the nation," said. Athel Q. Liggins, a retired principal and spokesman for the coalition. "Millions of victims are our young people who have been destroyed by drugs. Members of the family are also victims."
He said the bill would send "a conflicting message to youths," undermine antidrug campaigns and make the city a headquarters for drug paraphernalia sales.
The coalition, including the D.C. Congress of Parent-Teacher Associations, the school lobby group Parents United for Full Funding, the Greater Washington Board of Trade and the Council of Governments, announced its support for a move by council member John Ray (D-At Large) to ban all paraphernalia sales.
"It makes no sense to outlaw drugs and then legalize the tools of those drugs," Ray said at the press conference, where coalition members displayed counterfeit soda cans, plastic footballs and frisbees that have built-in drug devices.
The full ban appeared to be near the seven votes required to amend the measure as five other council members indicated their support, including Jerry A. Moore (R-At Large), Polly Shackleton (D-Ward 3), Wilhelmina J. Rolark (D-Ward 8), Hilda Mason (Statehood-At Large) and William R. Spaulding (D-Ward 5).
Council Chairman Arrington Dixon said yesterday he was undecided on the ban. Other members could not be reached for comment.
Council member David A. Clarke (D-Ward 1), whose judiciary committee reported out the partial ban, said yesterday he would not oppose the move to a total ban.
Clarke's staff had argued that a partial ban was more likely to stand up to court tests. Clarke's committee rewrote a bill introduced by Moore last year that would have imposed the total ban, and Moore, a Baptist minister, supported the changes in committee.
However, an aide to Moore said yesterday that "a lot more support has come up in the last two or three weeks. The lobbying effort has mushroomed." The aide, Gary Altman, also said the U.S. Supreme Court in two recent cases indicated it might support a total ban.
A move to delay a vote on the no-fault auto insurance issue also appeared to pick up some support yesterday when the Government Employees Insurance Co. (Geico), a major backer of no-fault, said in a letter to the council that it would support establishing a commission to study insurance costs here.
Setting up the commission, proposed by opponents of no-fault, would effectively delay consideration of the politically delicate issue until after the city's Sept. 14 primary elections.
Also on the council's agenda today are a final vote on a cable television bill, which would set up a 28-member commission to explore what type of system the city should allow, and a bill that would regulate the city's growing number of permanent outdoor cafes.
The council also has scheduled an initial vote on a revision of the city's drunk-driving laws.