Backers want fewer restriction on D.C. medical marijuana

February 23, 2010

Alana Goodman, Washington Examiner

A D.C. Council bill to put a regulatory framework in place for medical marijuana use in the city drew criticism Tuesday from its proponents, who called some of its proposals too restrictive. "A lot of regulations look good on paper but don't really help patients," said Steph Sherer, director of Americans for Safe Access, at a joint hearing before the council's public health and judiciary committees.

Sherer argued that allowing patients to receive marijuana prescriptions solely from their primary physician was unrealistic, because many chronically ill patients see multiple doctors.

But council members defended the restrictions as necessary. "What we're trying to play defense to is the 'pot docs' that sprung up around California," said at-large Councilman David Catania, referring to medical clinics that prescribed medical marijuana liberally after it was legalized there.

Advocates also disagreed with potential D.C. restrictions on which doctors could prescribe the drug and limits on which health problems could legally be treated with marijuana.

Steve D'Angelo, director of a California marijuana dispensary, told council members that the people most qualified to dispense marijuana often have drug convictions and they should not be barred from working in dispensaries. Rabbi Jeffrey Kahn said marijuana treatment should not be limited to specific illnesses, because it would disqualify many individuals who need the care. "Keeping treatment from the sick is a sin," he told the council.

Other unresolved issues the council faces are where the marijuana would be grown, which dispensaries would be granted licenses to sell it and where the dispensaries would be located. The D.C. Department of Health told the council it will provide specific recommendations regarding these areas of the legislation in the next 30 days.

The medical marijuana legislation was proposed by Catania after Congress dropped a longtime budget rider that banned D.C. from implementing Initiative 59, a 1998 ballot referendum supported by 69 percent of voters that legalized medical marijuana for chronically ill or aching patients.

The bill will likely be voted on by the council by mid-April, and if it passes, it will then undergo congressional review.

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