Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Medical Marijuana Proponents Split on Bill

When the D.C. Council gathers this afternoon to hear testimony on
legislation legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes, they'll likely
hear different opinions from people on the same side of the argument.

As we wrote last week, some medical marijuana advocates believe that
legislation introduced in late January on the issue is too restrictive
and limits access to marijuana for qualifying patients in the District.
The bill, sponsored by Council member David Catania (I-At Large), would
set up five dispensaries where patients with specific ailments and a
prescription from their primary care physician could go to pick up a
30-day supply of marijuana. The dispensaries would have to be 1,000 feet
from any school or youth center and would require patients to pay
registration fees. Some advocates believe that the proposal does not
live up to the spirit of the 1998 voter initiative that originally
green-lighted the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes in the

But Wayne Turner, one of the driving forces behind the 1998 initiative,
seems to disagree. In an op-ed published by the Post on Sunday, Turner
argues that a tightly-regulated system is more likely to pass
congressional muster and avoid abuses that have been seen elsewhere in
the country. "It's a sound proposal that tracks the design and intent of
the original initiative by creating a tightly regulated system whereby
patients with serious, chronic or debilitating medical conditions can
have safe and affordable access to medical marijuana. That's good,
because in recent years we've seen what a vague law and lack of
regulation can do," wrote Turner, specifically calling out California's
medical marijuana regulations as being overly broad.

"Yes, the proposal may be too restrictive for some, but Initiative 59
was never about promoting casual or recreational use of marijuana. And
the council's cautious approach is appropriate for another reason: Under
the Constitution, Congress retains the authority to overturn D.C.
legislation at any time. It would be a grave mistake to unnecessarily
provoke further congressional interference by creating a system
vulnerable to abuses. The council's plan represents the best chance to
implement medical marijuana and to protect those patients whose quality
of life may depend upon this medication of last resort," he added.

Catania has publicly indicated that he purposely wrote the legislation
to be restrictive so that it would stand a better chance of making it
through the congressional review period. With Turner on his side, that's
how the legislation may remain.

The hearing starts at 2 p.m. today at the John A. Wilson Building. More
than 50 people have signed up to testify.

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