Initiative 59 wins in court
The AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power
ACT UP Washington, DC
409 H Street NE
Washington, DC
phone (202) 547-9404
fax (202) 547-9458

September 3, 1998
For Immediate Release

Contact: Wayne Turner (202) 547-9404 or Pgr. (202) 217-5636

Initiative 59 wins in court!!

Washington, DC - DC Superior Court Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle ruled today that thousands of signatures in support of DC's medical marijuana Initiative 59 were improperly excluded by the DC Board of Elections and Ethics, and ordered their inclusion in the Board's tabulations.

Under the Court's ruling, the Board of Elections and Ethics must now tabulate and include over 4000 petition signatures it had previously set aside. Attorney Matt Watson, who with Alisa Wilkins are representing the Initiative 59 Campaign, comments, "The decision of the Court preserves one of the few electoral rights of citizens of the District of Columbia, to propose and vote on initiative measures. Judge Huvelle agreed that the Board of Elections and Ethics' decision would have 'silenced the voices of over 4,600 voters.'"

Initiative 59, organized by the local AIDS advocacy group ACT UP Washington, proposes to protect seriously and terminally ill patients, such as persons with cancer and AIDS, if they are instructed by their doctors to use small amounts of marijuana to ease their suffering.

Activists hailed the Court's decision as a victory for democracy in the District, "More importantly, there is hope for the thousands of sick and dying DC residents threatened with arrest and prosecution." states Initiative 59 sponsor Wayne Turner, who took over the campaign after his partner, Steve Michael, died from AIDS on May 25.

At least 5% of (16,997) of the total number of DC registered voters must sign petitions in order to place an initiative on the ballot, inlcuding at least 5% in 5 of the District's 8 Wards. Over 32,000 petition signatures for I-59 were submitted by DC activists on July 6, in order to meet the deadline for the November election.

However, I-59 organizers learned that thousands of signatures had been rejected by staffers because the circulator had been living at a Women's Shelter during the time she gathered signatures, and not at her family home listed on her circulator's affadivit.

After excluding thousands of signatures, DC government employees verified only 17,092. The Board of Elections and Ethics, while conceding that the measure qualified in 5 Wards, and exceeded the 5% District-wide minimum, ruled on August 5 that the number of verified signatures was "statistically insufficient" to place Initiative 59 on the election ballot.

On Wednesday, September 2, the Board conceded that errors were made during the Board's tabulation process when it invalidated the signature of Steve Michael, who had signed last February. Mayoral candidate Jeffery Gildenhorn, a strong supporter of Initiative 59, demanded that his signature, also discounted by Board staff, be included in the Board's tabulations. The Board declined to review the almost 700 additional signatures disputed by I-59 organizers, which should have been included in its own tabulation.

"Before Steve went into the Intensive Care Unit, he made me promise one thing, and that was to save the initiative. Steve died, but his work didn't. Despite all the obstacles, Initiative 59 will be on the November ballot, and we will win protection for patients," adds Turner.

Contact I-59 HQ at (202)547-9494 or visit our website at

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