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D.C. voters overwhelming approved two ballot initiatives last week that call for sweeping changes to the city’s criminal justice system. But neither is expected to become reality anytime soon. In fact, the D.C. government has already filed suit to prevent one of the measures from moving forward. Two months before the election, the District sued to block implementation of Measure 62, entitled “Treatment Instead of Jails for Certain Nonviolent Drug Offenders.” The initiative requires the District to provide drug treatment for any first- or second-time offender arrested for possession or use of a Schedule II drug and requests treatment. In addition, those facing criminal charges for possession of substances such as PCP and cocaine would not be prosecuted while seeking treatment. The law does not cover marijuana or other Schedule I drugs. D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams, D.C. Superior Court Chief Judge Rufus King III, and other local and federal officials have spoken out against the measure, arguing that it will jeopardize the city’s current Drug Court program. But more than 80,000 D.C. residents — nearly 80 percent of the voters who went to the polls — supported Measure 62. The District has until Oct. 1, 2003, to come up with the necessary funding and establish a new drug treatment office within the D.C. Department of Health. The initiative was underwritten by the Drug Policy Alliance, a national organization that was involved with the city’s 1998 medical marijuana referendum. In September, the Office of Corporation Counsel filed suit in D.C. Superior Court, but both sides agreed to wait until after Election Day before addressing the matter, according to D.C. officials. The suit, filed against the D.C. Board of Election and Ethics, claims the measure is illegal because D.C. law prevents ballot referenda from appropriating money. A hearing before Judge Mary Gooden Terrell has been scheduled for Nov. 13. If the law survives the challenge, it could still be blocked or modified by the D.C. Council or Congress. “In the mayor’s view, this initiative is not only legally flawed, but it is also bad policy,” says Peter Lavallee, spokesman for acting Corporation Counsel Arabella Teal. Meanwhile, 82 percent of voters signed off on creating an elected district attorney’s office, which would be responsible for prosecuting D.C. crimes. Currently, the U.S. Attorney’s Office handles all cases involving felonies, while the Office of Corporation Counsel deals with misdemeanors and juvenile crimes. Supporters say the referendum was designed to gauge the public’s reaction to the idea. The District, however, doesn’t have the power to carry out the residents’ wishes. Congress and the president would be required to amend the District’s Home Rule charter for the initiative to take effect. In addition, the money-strapped city would have to find an estimated $50 million to fund a district attorney’s office. “Eighty-two percent was one of the strongest outcomes we could have hoped for,” says D.C. Councilman David Catania (R-At Large), who has spearheaded the effort.

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