Congress allows DC to implement 1998 medical marijuana law

By chillinwill · Dec 9, 2009 · ·
  1. chillinwill
    House and Senate negotiations for the 2010 Appropriations bill have been completed. This is the huge federal budget bill and it just so happens that Washington DC is a federal district and its spending is controlled by Congress.

    In 1998, DC passed a medical marijuana bill overwhelmingly, but Congressional drug warriors led by Rep. Bob Barr of Georgia prevented DC from spending any federal money to count the votes (that’s right, in our democracy’s capital, our leaders conspired to prevent citizens from counting votes in a legal election). When that was deemed unconstitutional, they spent the money to count the votes, showing that 69% of DC supported medical marijuana. So Rep. Barr created the “Barr Amendment” that prevented DC from spending any money to implement the medical marijuana program they had voted in.

    Well, today’s 2010 Appropriations bill changes all that. In addition to removing bans on abortion, domestic partnerships, and needle exchange, Congress has given the go-ahead to begin implementing DC medical marijuana!

    (US Senate) Removing Special Restrictions on the District of Columbia: Eliminates a prohibition on the use of local tax funds for abortion, thereby putting the District in the same position as the 50 states. Also allows the District to implement a referendum on use of marijuana for medical purposes as has been done in other states, allows use of Federal funds for needle exchange programs except in locations considered inappropriate by District authorities, and discontinues a ban on the use of funds in the bill for domestic partnership registration and benefits.

    DC’s medical marijuana bill was written with the same sort of open language as was passed in California… will we be seeing marijuana dispensaries on K Street anytime soon?

    By: Russ Belville
    December 9, 2009
    NORML Blog

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  1. chillinwill
    House Lifts DC Ban on Medical Marijuana

    A controversial move by the U.S. House of Representatives has given the green light on some hot-button issues, including lifting a ban on the District's medical marijuana law.

    It was an historic move in the House, and a victory for Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton.

    Congress voted Thursday to allow the District to use city money to pay for abortions for low income women, to implement a medical marijuana law, and continue a needle exchange program.

    In 1998, D.C. voters approved medical marijuana, but it was blocked when Congress voted to stop D.C. from setting its own drug policies. As for the needle exchange program, a ban on it was removed last year, but Republicans sough to reattach it to the bill.

    Delegate Norton says Thursday's vote marks the first time in her memory that no conditions were attached to the spending bill, and she released this statement:

    "We will never make up for the HIV/AIDS epidemic that has besieged this city because needle exchange was banned for a decade, or make up for the resulting loss of lives. There is no way to make poor women, forced to carry pregnancies to term, believe that their reproductive choice was guaranteed in the decades during the longest of the bans, on using local funds for abortions for poor women. But, today we start a new chapter in democracy in the District of Columbia with the first D.C. appropriations in memory free of all un-democratic, anti-home rule riders."

    There is a federal ban on medical marijuana, leaving the decision to implement programs up to each state. Fifteen states currently allow medical marijuana.

    The budget still needs Senate approval, and because the city is under federal control, it requires congressional approval. President Obama is expected to sign the bill into law.

    Laura Evans
    December 10, 2009
    My Fox DC
  2. chillinwill
    Congress opens door to medical marijuana in D.C.

    The Senate passed legislation Sunday that opens the door to the District of Columbia legalizing medical marijuana after over a decade of Congress blocking the issue through budget restrictions.

    Nestled in the $447 billion omnibus spending bill approved Sunday by a vote of 57-35 is language that frees up Washington D.C. to use local money to implement a medical marijuana measure approved in a referendum by nearly 70 percent of voters in 1998, resurrecting an effort that has been stalled since Congress imposed a rider blocking money to actualize the measure. The House version of the spending bill passed last week included similar language, and President Obama is expected to sign the legislation this coming week.

    While the text of the D.C. referendum allows for “all seriously ill individuals… to obtain and use marijuana for medical purposes when a licensed physician has found the use of marijuana to be medically necessary,” the measure’s advocates still face hurdles in making legalized medical marijuana a reality, including a cautious City Council and the possibility of further interference from Congress, which could have 30 days to review the 1998 vote before it becomes law.

    “It's too early to say what will happen," said a spokesman for Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray in an interview with The Washington Times Thursday, anticipating the lift on the funding ban.

    "It's been 11 years since anyone has looked at this,” Council Member Phil Mendelson told the Times. “I don't know what the next steps should be."

    There’s also a chance federal lawmakers could reimpose the budget rider. But advocates of legalization are hoping to steer clear of Congress and proceed by jumping straight to regulating medical use of the drug through rulemaking, according to Washington City Paper.

    “I wouldn’t submit a thing” to Congress, Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s delegate to Congress, told the City Paper last Wednesday, arguing that the body had already made its position clear on legalization by lifting the funding restrictions.

    “The Congress speaks when it says, 'We overturned that [rider].' That means you can do it."

    December 13, 2009
  3. mbarnes0
    Vote Moves Washington Closer to Medical Marijuana


    The U.S. Senate passed a bill Sunday that clears the way for the District government to allow medical marijuana use and to spend local tax dollars to help low-income women pay for abortions.

    More than a decade ago, D.C. voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure that would allow for the possession, use, cultivation and distribution of marijuana if recommended by a physician for serious illnesses.

    Initiative 59 passed with 69 percent of the vote in 1998, but before it could take effect, Congress passed legislation banning the practice in the District.

    The latest bill, which passed the House on Thursday, also continues to allow needle-exchange programs in a bid to limit the spread of HIV and AIDS, a strategy that Congress had blocked in the District until 2007. It also provides $752 million in federal funds for the District as part of a larger spending package.

    "This is the biggest win for home rule in decades," said Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton ( D-D.C. ).

    President Obama is expected to sign the bill into law this week.

    The District would join Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington in allowing medical marijuana.

    D.C. Council member David A. Catania ( I-At Large ), chairman of the Health Committee, supports medical marijuana but said city leaders will proceed with caution.

    "I wouldn't expect it to be implemented anytime soon, because we are going to need to do thoughtful planning," he said, noting that guidelines must be written about who can grow, distribute and receive marijuana.

    First, though, the District might need to submit the text of the voter initiative for a 30-day legislative review. During that window, Congress could take the unlikely step of blocking the initiative. If no action is taken, the District government can issue regulations.

    Aaron Houston, director of government relations for the Marijuana Policy Project, said he thinks medical marijuana could be available in the District by the end of 2010. "They don't have to start over," Houston said.

    A federal law known as the Hyde Amendment has barred the District and states from using federal money to fund abortions, but states are free to use local tax dollars to cover the cost of the procedure for women who cannot otherwise afford it. Private donations have helped some D.C. women, but supporters of abortion rights say many have been turned away from clinics and hospitals because the District government has had no financing for abortions.

    The bill also allows the District to continue using local tax dollars to fund needle-exchange programs that provide clean syringes to addicts, part of an effort to stem the spread of AIDS. In 2007, Congress ended a decade-long prohibition against city funding, allowing the D.C. HIV/AIDS Administration to provide four nonprofit agencies with $700,000 to distribute needles in areas where drug trafficking is common.

    For years, the District has fought what residents see as intrusions into city business by representatives from elsewhere. The city's largely Democratic leadership has complained that times were particularly tough when Republicans were in charge.

    "It's hard to rank these riders except by lives lost," Norton said. "In lives lost, needle exchange [restrictions] would rank as the most lethal."

    Mayor Adrian M. Fenty ( D ) said the Senate vote demonstrates how much the working relationship between the city and Congress has improved since Democrats took over.

    "The District has come a long way," he said. "The support from Congress to the District is at an all-time high. We're glad about the substantive issues."

    James Hofmann
    Mon, 14 Dec 2009
    Washington Post
  4. chillinwill
    After 10 Years, Medical Marijuana Finally Heads for D.C

    It has been years in the making, derailed by Congress three times in about as many years, but medicinal marijuana could soon be heading to the nation's capital.

    In 1998, voters in Washington, D.C., put themselves near the forefront of the budding medical-marijuana movement when they voted nearly 7 to 3 for doctor-prescribed dope — a greater majority than those in any of the other eight statewide ballot initiatives that have passed around the country.
    But no celebratory smoke-outs have followed — not yet, at least. Instead, poll workers spent that election night obscuring the results of the vote, in deference to a last-minute congressional amendment pulling funds from D.C. for the processing of any drug-legalization initiative. (Ballots had been printed prior to the ban, but the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics decided that to follow the intent of the law it had to withhold the results after the votes had been cast.) "I know of no case where a federal entity has told another entity they cannot even announce the results," says WTOP analyst Mark Plotkin. "We're not even talking about the implementation of the law."

    Twelve years later, the political landscape appears to be profoundly changed. The sponsor of the 1998 congressional ban, Bob Barr, has gone from a drug hawk to a libertarian, legalize-it presidential candidate — even lobbying against the law he once wrote. Fourteen states have legalized medical marijuana in the 14 years since California became the first to do so; several more are working on legislation now.

    In December 2009, a Congress dominated by Democrats quietly lifted the Barr Amendment, giving the city an opportunity to enact its old dope law.

    A few weeks later city-council member David Catania moved to do just that, introducing a bill that would implement Initiative 59, with the co-sponsorship of nine of the 13 council members. Don't ask him if there are more serious issues he should be working on. "Every time someone says that, I think my head should explode," he says. "As far as I'm concerned this is an important issue. The evidence I've seen certainly suggests a powerful medicinal use for marijuana that can stimulate appetite and can reduce pain and suffering. So frankly that's my decision, and I'm capable of doing more than one thing at a time, as are my colleagues and as is this government."

    Catania acknowledges that the policy details still have to be worked out — how many dispensaries to allow, whether they'll be nonprofit or private, for which diseases prescription pot will be available, where the stuff will be grown. He leans toward more restrictive implementation, knowing that any legal-weed law can be struck down by future governments. "The voters approved the medical use of marijuana, not the recreational use of marijuana," he says. "The more professional and controlled and evidence-based our system is, the greater likelihood it will be sustained going forward."

    Such a system, Catania says, might create five to 10 nonprofit dispensaries around the city, which would have to be at least 1,000 feet away from places like schools, parks and other dispensaries. In contrast, for years Los Angeles has had hundreds of dispensaries, privately owned, with a 500-foot rule. But its city council passed a revised dope law just hours after D.C. outlined its own, adopting D.C.'s 1,000-foot rule and cutting the number of dispensaries allowed to around 150.

    A spokesman for the D.C. city council says the bill is likely to get through the council by the end of the spring, and may be approved in Congress by the end of summer.

    Studies have found medical cannabis to be effective in mitigating nausea, stimulating needed appetite in AIDS and cancer patients and acting as a general pain reliever, among other effects. The American Medical Association "calls for further adequate and well-controlled studies of marijuana and related cannabinoids in patients" in a policy statement that takes a cautious position on the issue.

    Some of the leading activists for Initiative 59 are equally ambivalent, even as they reach what appears to be light at the end of the tunnel. "It's a victory, but it's not something that I really feel like celebrating," says Wayne Turner, whose partner Steve Michael originally sponsored Initiative 59 before dying in the months leading up to its vote. "Democracy has been denied for over 10 years, and we've lost a lot of people along the way."

    The voting bloc of recreational weed smokers is likely to be even less enthusiastic if Catania gets his way. "I do not see this as the camel's nose under the tent to the broad legalization of marijuana, nor the recreational use, nor do I ever envision supporting the use of marijuana for anxiety or hangnails," he says. "This is for people who are profoundly sick."

    Sam Jewler
    January 27, 2010
  5. Balzafire
    [h1]Medical marijuana now legal[/h1]
    Medical marijuana is now legal in the District after the Democrat-controlled Congress declined to overrule a D.C Council bill that allows the city to set up as many as eight dispensaries where chronically ill patients can purchase the drug.

    Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) said in a statement the bill become law after Congress finished its business Monday night because neither the House nor Senate opted to intervene.

    The council approved the bill in May, and under Home Rule Congress had 30 legislative days to review it.

    "We have faced repeated attempts to re-impose the prohibition on medical marijuana in D.C. throughout the layover period," said Norton. "Yet, it is D.C.'s business alone to decide how to help patients who live in our city and suffer from chronic pain and incurable illnesses."

    Although the bill has now cleared Congress, patients will likely have to wait at least several months before they can obtain the drug from a city-sanctioned dispensary.

    Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and the Department of Health now have to establish regulations outlining who can bid for a license to open a dispensary. (See how different states handle medical marijuana.)

    The law allows patients with cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS and other chronic ailments can possess up to four ounces of the drug.

    Patients will not be allowed to grow their own marijuana, but licensed companies will be able to sell the drug to people who first obtain a doctor's prescription.

    The council also approved a provision in the 2011 budget that calls for medical marijuana to be subject to the city's 6 percent sales tax. Underprivileged residents who qualify will be eligible to purchase their drugs free or at reduced cost.

    Under the legislation, sponsored by council members David A. Catania (I-At large) and Phil Mendelson (D-At large), both non-profit and for-profit organizations will be eligible to operate the dispensaries.

    Even after the Department of Health licenses the dispensaries and cultivation centers, they could be delayed by a zoning process in which residents could protest where the dispensaries will be located. The legislation states the dispensaries will not be allowed to be located within 300 feet of a school.

    Distributors also will be limited to growing no more than 95 marijuana plants at a given location, an apparent effort to keep dispensers within federal law that heightens penalties on anyone arrested with at least 100 plants.

    The law caps a years-long struggle to act on a 1998 referendum in which 69 percent of District residents voted for to allow medical marijuana. Until last year, Congress blocked the city from enacting the referendum.

    City leaders, hoping to avoid the quasi-legalization of the drug, say the District will have one of the most restrictive medical marijuana laws in the country. They fear a future Congress could reverse the law if it is abused.

    By Erica Johnston | July 27, 2010; 12:13 AM ET
  6. bananaskin
    District patients shouldn't expect legal sale of marijuana until early 2011

    District leaders say it will be months before the city begins allowing the sale of medical marijuana, even though the law authorizing up to eight dispensaries took effect Tuesday after the Democratic-controlled Congress declined to intervene.

    The delay is driven by a lack of detail about how the city will operate the program, which includes a first-in-the-nation provision requiring dispensaries to price the marijuana on a sliding scale so the city's poorest patients can obtain medicinal pot for free.

    The administration of Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) will draft regulations to license dispensaries, track doctors and users, and identify where to allow the wholesale production of marijuana. Health Department officials and Attorney General Peter Nickles said Tuesday they expect a draft of the regulations to be made public next week. The rules would then undergo a public comment and review period, which could take months.

    Council member David A. Catania (I-At Large), chairman of the Health Committee, said he does not expect the first dispensaries to open until at least early next year. "I know people are eager for this go to forward, but I think we have to do this judiciously and slowly and carefully," Catania said.

    Catania said he expects the Fenty administration to formally solicit bids in the fall to operate the dispensaries, which can be run by nonprofit and for-profit organizations. Winning bidders, he said, would ideally have experience growing medical marijuana and would be able to comply with rigorous security procedures.

    The law also requires dispensaries to set aside a portion of their proceeds to subsidize the cost of the drug for low-income patients. Other patients will have to pay market value for the drug as well as a 6 percent sales tax to the city.

    Distributors will be limited to growing no more than 95 marijuana plants at a given location, an apparent effort to meet a federal law that heightens penalties on anyone arrested with at least 100 plants.

    After the Health Department licenses the dispensaries and cultivation centers, zoning objections from residents could further delay implementation. The law, for instance, calls for not allowing dispensaries within 300 feet of a school.

    The council approved the initiative in May, and under home rule, Congress had 30 legislative days to review it. The measure became law after Congress finished its business Monday night because the House and Senate declined to intervene, according to a statement from Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D).

    With Congress staying out of the issue, medical marijuana advocates called the enactment of the law a "historic" victory for their movement.

    "By allowing this law to take effect, Congress is actually taking a positive step towards sensible medical marijuana laws that serve to better the best interests of seriously ill patients," said Mike Meno of the Marijuana Policy Project.

    Yet medical marijuana remains illegal under federal law, and, with the federal Drug Enforcement Administration headquartered in the Washington region, some advocates remain nervous about a possible federal response.

    Officials with the DEA were not available to comment Tuesday. But Catania said he is encouraged by an Obama administration-issued directive from the Department of Veterans Affairs allowing patients at VA hospitals and clinics to have access to medical marijuana in the 14 states where it is legal. Last year, U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. also told federal prosecutors to discontinue pursuing cases against medical marijuana patients who abide by local law.

    The law caps a years-long struggle to act on a 1998 referendum in which 69 percent of District residents voted in favor of medical marijuana. Until last year, Congress had blocked the city from enacting the referendum.

    Bill Piper, director of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance, said his organization will continue lobbying city officials to also allow patients to grow their own marijuana.

    An advisory committee is studying the idea, but Catania said he worries that home cultivation will lead to abuse and "criminal activity."

    By Tim Craig
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Wednesday, July 28, 2010
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