The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

ASA Media Liaison Kris Hermes 510-681-6361 or ASA Government Affairs Director Caren Woodson 510-388-0546

Congress Lifts Ban on Medical Marijuana in Nation's Capitol

U.S. House & Senate lift 11-year ban against Washington, D.C. law


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 yesterday 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 yesterday'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:

Americans for Safe Access is the nation's largest organization of patients, medical professionals, scientists and concerned citizens promoting safe and legal access to cannabis for therapeutic use and research.