Vote on D.C. Medical Marijuana Bill Holds Bittersweet Promise for Patients

Washington, D.C. -- The District Council took its second vote today on a bill that will regulate and enact Initiative 59, the Legalization of Marijuana for Medical Treatment Initiative. In the final vote on changes to the bill, District Council rejected several amendments being requested by patients, including explicit civil protections to prevent the denial of employment, housing or other critical needs. Another amendment to ensure distribution centers are operated on a nonprofit basis was also rejected. A final vote, without consideration of any other amendments, is still expected before the bill is sent to the Mayor.

"We are certainly excited to implement a bill that has taken 11 years to see the light of day," said Steph Sherer, Executive Director of Americans for Safe Access, the country's largest medical marijuana advocacy group, which has been lobbying District Council on improving the bill. "However, the District Council's failure to listen to patients' needs will have serious unintended effects that may force us to work for years to correct."

Patients were able to convince the city that the personal use limit of 2 ounces per month may be insufficient for many patients with serious medical conditions. District Council included a provision that gives the Mayor discretion to increase that limit from 2 to 4 ounces. Other medical marijuana states have personal use limits of up to 24 ounces.

Another important amendment rejected by District Council was a provision that would allow patients to cultivate their own medical marijuana. Patient cultivation can be much more affordable for those on a low or fixed income and makes it easier to maintain quality and consistency. Regarding the provision on allowing for-profit dispensaries, Sherer added that "the policy will set a precedent that placed the needs of shareholders over those of patients."

Given that discrimination is rampant in states like California and Oregon, which do not have civil protections, patients remain very concerned. "I can sleep again and I look like my old self prior to cancer," said Debbie Salmi, a metastatic breast cancer survivor who helped lobby District Council. "But, my civil rights and my ability to easily access this important medicine are crucial components that must be part of the District Council's bill."

The Congressional ban against implementing Initiative 59, which was approved by 69% of District voters in 1998, was lifted in December and the District Council has moved swiftly to implement the law. The "Legalization of Marijuana for Medical Treatment Initiative Amendment Act of 2010," was co-introduced earlier this year by District Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) and Councilmembers David A. Catania (I-At Large) and Phil Mendelson (D-At Large). The bill still must go before Congress for a mandatory 30-day review period.

Further Information:
Proposed D.C. legislation to implement I-59:
ASA’s suggested amendments:
Text of I-59, passed in 1998:

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