D.C. City Council Proposes Bill to Legalize Medical Marijuana

Press Release January 19, 2010
Media Contact

Bill Piper at 202-669-6430 or Tony Newman at 646-335-5384

On Tuesday, the D.C. City Council introduced a bill that would make medical marijuana legally available in five District locations, moving the city closer to joining 14 states that allow marijuana for medical purposes.

The following is a statement by Bill Piper, Director of National Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance:

We’re glad that the D.C. City Council is trying to implement the will of D.C. voters, but we worry that the proposed regulations stray too far from the intent of voters and are not in line with the best practices of other states. In 1998 D.C. residents voted overwhelming to legalize marijuana for medical use — 69% to 31%, still the largest margin in any jurisdiction to legalize medical marijuana. It took more than a decade to get Congress out of the way so that city officials could implement the law. Voters have been waiting a long time for their voice to be heard; it’s critical that the D.C. City Council get it right.

Unfortunately, the bill’s 1,000 foot restrictions would prohibit medical marijuana clinics from operating almost anywhere in the city, limiting patient access to the medicine they need. It is likely that these restrictions would prove just as unworkable as the 1,000 foot syringe exchange restrictions that Congress just overturned. There is no evidence that these kinds of arbitrary school zone rules, whether on syringe exchange programs, methadone, or medical marijuana, protect public safety; there is, however, a lot of evidence that they undermine public health.

Moreover, the 1998 voter initiative made clear that patients should be able to use marijuana to treat any condition that their doctor believes it will help. This is consistent with medical practice as it pertains to other medicines. Unfortunately, this bill takes control away from physicians and their patients and inappropriately puts it in the hands of government officials. We hope the City Council will improve the bill to better protect the patient/doctor relationship.

Finally, it is unclear whether or not the D.C. Council is going to allow patients to cultivate their own marijuana, as they are allowed to in most other medical marijuana states. Allowing patients to cultivate their own medication with a doctor’s recommendation is crucial to protecting the rights of patients and it’s what DC voters voted for.

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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