Congress Lifts Ban on Medical Marijuana for Nation's Capitol

Washington, DC -- Both the United States Senate and House of Representatives has voted to lift the ban against a medical marijuana initiative passed by the voters of Washington, D.C. in 1998. The Senate voted today on the 2010 Consolidated Appropriations Act, which was absent a typical provision, coined the "Barr amendment," after then-Congressman Bob Barr (R-GA) successfully blocked implementation of Initiative 59, the "Legalization of Marijuana for Medical Treatment Initiative of 1998. " Barr not only blocked implementation of the law after it was clear the initiative had passed, he also sealed the vote count. It was revealed months later that 69% of the voters had approved the initiative.

"By restoring Washington, D.C.'s medical marijuana law," said Caren Woodson, Government Affairs Director with Americans for Safe Access (ASA). "Congress has recognized the importance of medical marijuana as a public health issue," continued Woodson. "Washington, D.C. is not just the next city to adopt a medical marijuana law, this issue is now in the backyard of federal legislators and far more difficult to ignore." The appropriations bill now goes to the President's desk for his expected signature sometime this week.

As a formality, before the law can go into effect, the Council of the District of Columbia will need to transmit the original 1998 initiative to Congress for a 30-day review period. The law will take effect at the conclusion of this review, and the local government will then be charged with creating regulations to govern the implementation of the initiative. With a population of less than 600,000 people and an area of just under 70 square miles, Washington, D.C. will be the smallest place to adopt a medical marijuana law.

Advocates are pointing ever-increasing scientific data confirming marijuana's medical efficacy, heightened grassroots pressure, and a greater willingness by Congress to address the issue, as some of the reasons why the ban was lifted. Recent milestones, such as the Justice Department directive to U.S. Attorneys in medical marijuana states and the call by the American Medical Association to review marijuana status as a dangerous drug with no medical value, have also contributed to more tolerant environment. ASA plans to work with local advocates to make certain that patients have a voice in the implementation of D.C.'s restored medical marijuana law.

Underscoring the public health aspect of today's Senate vote, the appropriations bill also lifted a ban on federal funding for syringe exchange programs. As catalysts for adoption of both medical marijuana and syringe exchange programs, people living with HIV/AIDS possibly stand the most to gain by the lifting of these bans. Studies have shown that as many as 1/3 of people living with HIV/AIDS use medical marijuana to treat both the symptoms of the disease and the side-effects from the drugs. Studies have also shown that syringe exchange programs can reduce HIV transmission by at least 1/3 and reduce risk behavior by as much as 80%.

Further Information:
Text of 1998 D.C. I-59:

# # #