DC Council Holds Public Hearing on Implementation of Medical Marijuana Law

Washington, DC -- The Council of the District of Columbia will hold a public hearing on Tuesday at 2pm to review legislation that will help implement Initiative 59, a local medical marijuana law passed by the voters of Washington, D.C. in 1998, then banned by Congress until this past December. Patients, experts and advocates will testify about the "Legalization of Marijuana for Medical Treatment Initiative Amendment Act of 2010," a regulatory proposal for Initiative 59, which still awaits Congressional review. Tuesday's hearing is being jointly hosted by the D.C. Council Committee on Health and Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary.
What: Public hearing on legislation to implement Initiative 59, the "Legalization of Marijuana for Medical Treatment Initiative of 1998"
Who: Patients, experts, advocates, and public officials will testify about the proposed legislation
When: Tuesday, February 23 at 2pm
Where: D.C. Council Chamber, 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D), as well as council members David A. Catania (I-At Large) and Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) co-introduced the proposed legislation, which will help protect patients and growers from criminal sanctions and establish regulations for much-needed distribution sites around the District.

"We're extremely pleased by the legislative proposal to implement Washington, D.C.'s medical marijuana law," said Steph Sherer from the D.C. chapter of Americans for Safe Access, the country's largest medical marijuana advocacy group, which has formed a new D.C. chapter to provide support for patients and to help craft a sensible regulatory proposal for the District. "This is a great first step and we are confident that after hearing from patients in the District, the Council will make the necessary improvements," continued Sherer. "This hearing is an opportunity for us to articulate the needs of patients."

Some of the concerns expressed by patients and advocates about the proposed legislation include: allowing only primary care physicians to recommend medical marijuana; limiting patients to a single caregiver; relegating dispensaries to remote areas using onerous location restrictions; placing patients at risk by forcing dispensaries to retain sensitive and privileged information; and saddling patients with unnecessary and excessive fees.

After the passage of Initiative 59, the "Legalization of Marijuana for Medical Treatment Initiative of 1998," its implementation was effectively blocked by Congress for more than 11 years. Congressman Bob Barr (R-GA) originally introduced what became known as the "Barr amendment" in order to block implementation of the law. Barr also sealed the vote count, but it was revealed months later that 69% of D.C. voters had approved the initiative. "It's taken more than 11 years to get to this point," said Sherer. "Patients are understandably anxious to implement the law, but they are also wary of hastily made plans that overstep their needs."

ASA Executive Director Steph Sherer will be available after the hearing for comment or to coordinate interviews with others.

Further Information:
Proposed D.C. legislation to implement I-59: http://AmericansForSafeAccess.org/downloads/DC_Proposed_Regs.pdf
Text of I-59, passed in 1998: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/local/longterm/library/dcelections/races/dcq59.htm#text

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