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District of Columbia Council approves medical marijuana

WASHINGTON — The District of Columbia Council approved a measure on Tuesday that would allow people with certain chronic illnesses to medical marihuanaobtain medical marijuana from a handful of dispensaries regulated by the city.

The 13-member Council voted unanimously to allow doctors to recommend marijuana for people who are infected with H.I.V., as well as people with glaucoma, cancer or a “chronic and lasting disease.”

The legislation permits Mayor Adrian M. Fenty to establish up to eight dispensaries where patients could receive two ounces of marijuana a month. The measure gives the mayor the option of raising the amount to four ounces without further council action.

Some doctors say marijuana helps relieve nausea, vomiting, certain AIDS symptoms and some side effects of chemotherapy. For glaucoma patients, the drug is believed to help lower eye pressure.

The measure, which Mr. Fenty is expected to sign into law, thrusts the debate over medical marijuana into the hands of Congress and the White House, which must decide within 30 days whether to allow the city to proceed with the plan. To block the law from taking effect, the House and the Senate must pass a joint resolution and President Obama must approve it.

If federal lawmakers do not intervene, Washington will join California and 13 other states that allow residents to use marijuana for medical purposes.

David A. Catania, a sponsor of the measure, said he was confident it was “a thoughtful approach toward implementing a medical marijuana program that will be a model for other states that will be defensible before Congress.”

The measure requires patients, their caregivers, dispensaries and cultivators to register with the city, restricts dispensaries to a maximum of 95 plants, and prohibits district agencies from arresting medical marijuana users or denying them other services.

The Council rejected amendments that would have spelled out patient protections, limited dispensaries to nonprofits and permitted patients to use recommendations from doctors in Maryland and Virginia.

Nikolas Schiller, the secretary of the D.C. Patients’ Cooperative, a nonprofit group that advocates legal medical marijuana, said the amendments would have clarified ambiguities in the bill. He pointed to an example of a Wal-Mart worker in Michigan, where medical marijuana is legal, who was fired in March after he tested positive for the drug, which he used to cope with sinus cancer and an inoperable brain tumor.

“We asked the Council to introduce the protection for that and they refused to,” Mr. Schiller said. “And it was very infuriating to sit and watch the best practices from other states, other jurisdictions be ignored.”

Dorothy Brizill, the executive director of D.C. Watch, a local government watchdog, expects a fight over where to locate the dispensaries and raised concerns about medical marijuana ending up being illegally sold on the streets.

“I don’t have confidence in the district’s ability to carry out the regulation,” Ms. Brizill said. “I hope to be proven wrong.”

Sixty-nine percent of district voters approved a 1998 ballot initiative to legalize medical marijuana. Congress blocked the money needed to create a medical marijuana program until it lifted that ban in December.

In October, the Justice Department urged federal district attorneys to back off of prosecutions of people in possession of medical marijuana who are acting in accordance with state law.

Public support for medical marijuana has remained constantly high in recent years. In an Associated Press-CNBC poll conducted in April, nearly two-thirds of the respondents supported legalizing medical marijuana.

Nytimes, May 4, 2010

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1 comment to District of Columbia Council approves medical marijuana

  • BobKS

    Isn’t America great? You have the freedom to do whatever you want unless some bigots from 100 years ago think it is bad for you.

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