INITIATIVE 59, the measure that legalizes medical use of marijuana in the District, won voter approval by a huge margin last fall. But the results are only now known, thanks to the decision of U.S. District Judge Richard Roberts, who ruled last week that a congressional ban on marijuana legalization in the District did not extend to sealing last fall's tallies. Still, the vote should not be read by would-be cultivators, distributors and users of marijuana as a signal to start planting seeds. Congress is likely to have the last word on this issue.
Although we recommended a "no" vote on Initiative 59 last November, we said that District residents had every right to register their views on the issue and have their votes counted by the Board of Elections and Ethics. So we agree with jubilant city leaders that the court's decision is a victory for D.C. self-government. The so-called Barr amendment blocking D.C. funds from being spent on the measure was an affront to District voters.
But that doesn't mean that Initiative 59, as drafted, is a sound measure. The initiative legalizes the possession, use, cultivation and distribution of marijuana if "recommended" by a physician for serious illness. We still believe that doctors, scientists and the Food and Drug Administration -- not voters -- are the best judges of how and under what conditions unlicensed drugs can be used to help the sick. If pain of the terminally ill, nausea from chemotherapy or appetite suppression from AIDS are not responding to standard therapies and can be alleviated by the use of a regulated drug prescribed by a doctor, then the law should be flexible enough to allow that to happen. But that is a matter for the regulatory process, not the ballot box.
Georgia Republican Rep. Robert Barr's new threat to nullify Initiative 59 makes matters worse. The city should be able to develop a scientifically acceptable, but tightly controlled, compassionate-use program that does not do violence to drug laws. At least Congress should let the city try.