Bill Piper at (202) 669-6430 or Naomi Long at (202) 669-6071
In a major blow to efforts to reduce drug addiction in the District, the DC Court of Appeals overturned a popular “treatment instead of incarceration” initiative yesterday. The initiative, known as Measure 62, was approved by 78% of DC voters in 2002. Shortly after the measure was approved by the voters, Mayor Anthony Williams sued to have it overturned in court. He argued that it improperly interfered with the city’s spending authority. A judge ruled in his favor in 2003, but treatment advocates appealed the ruling. In a 21-page ruling yesterday the DC Court of Appeals sided with the lower court and overturned the measure.
Proponents of the initiative say they will continue the fight. They have pledged to work with the mayor and city council to develop and implement a model treatment strategy this year. Measure 62 advocates cite the Mayor’s 2003 First Citywide Comprehensive Substance Abuse Strategy for the District of Columbia as a step in the right direction and the foundation for a partnership this year. The Mayor’s strategy seeks to reduce the addicted population by 25,000 from its current 60,000 and bring societal costs down from $1.2 billion to $300 million by 2010. Advocates are encouraged but are also considering placing another initiative on the ballot in 2006 that would stand up in court.
“We’re obviously disappointed that Measure 62 was overturned in court, because it would have saved both lives and money,” said Bill Piper, Director of National Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, the group that put the measure on the 2002 ballot. “Now that Maryland and other states have passed ‘treatment instead of incarceration’ legislation it’s time for DC to do so. We look forward to working with the mayor and city council on good public policy that reflects the will of the people.”