U.S. House Repeals Provision Prohibiting Washington, D.C. from Enacting Medical Marijuana; Nation

Press Release July 16, 2009
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Bill Piper at 202-669-6430 or Tony Newman at 646-335-5384

The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation today removing a federal provision that bars the nation’s capital from legalizing marijuana for medical use. The provision, nicknamed the Barr Amendment after its author, former Republican Congressman Bob Barr, who now supports repealing the amendment, was passed in 1998 in response to a medical marijuana initiative approved by 69% of Washington, D.C. voters. The Barr Amendment overturned the medical marijuana law and prohibited the city from ever reducing penalties for marijuana or other Schedule I drugs – even for medical use. The provision is so broad that legal experts believe it even prohibits the city from passing treatment-instead-of-incarceration legislation diverting people arrested for marijuana, heroin or other Schedule I drugs to drug treatment instead of jail.

“D.C. residents voted for medical marijuana, cancer and AIDS patients deserve access to medicine, and it’s a disgrace that Congress ever passed the Barr Amendment,” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “Congress can bring some sanity to federal marijuana laws and support the will of D.C. voters by overturning this undemocratic law.”

If adopted by both branches of Congress, D.C. will be free to once again enact medical marijuana legislation. Already 13 states have legalized marijuana for medical use. The congressional action on medical marijuana is only the latest in growing momentum in favor of reforming U.S. marijuana laws. Rhode Island legislators expanded their state’s medical marijuana law earlier this year, establishing compassion centers to distribute marijuana directly to patients. The New Jersey Assembly passed medical marijuana legislation earlier this year and the state’s Senate will take up the issue later this year. Minnesota and New Hampshire legislatures recently passed legislation legalizing marijuana for medical use, but the bills were vetoed by each state’s governor.

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

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