Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Medical marijuana bill up for a vote today

The D.C. Council will vote today on a much-awaited proposal to allow
chronically ill patients to receive a doctor's prescription to use
marijuana and buy it from a city-sanctioned distribution center.

Under the bill, which has already cleared two committees, a patient who
suffers from HIV, glaucoma, cancer or a "chronic and lasting disease"
may receive a doctor's recommendation to possess up to 2 ounces of
marijuana in a 30-day period.

The patient would not be allowed to grow their own marijuana, but
between five and eight pot distribution centers would be established in
the city.

Those distribution centers would receive marijuana from privately run
cultivation centers, where up to 95 marijuana plants could be grown at a
given time. The distribution and cultivation centers, which could not be
located within 300 feet of a school or preschool, would be operated by
private or nonprofit organizations and businesses that would be licensed
by the city.

The bill is expected to easily pass the council today, perhaps by a
unanimous vote. The council will then have to vote on it a second time
next month. But it will likely be at least several months before the
city's medical marijuana program gets off the ground.

Under the legislation, the mayor's office and the Department of Health
will have to draft regulations on where the distribution centers can be
located and under what terms. It remains unclear what criteria the mayor
would use when selecting what companies or nonprofits will win the right
to enter the city's potentially lucrative marijuana market. But city
officials say they have learned lessons from other states with less
controlled medical marijuana programs.

Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D), a Democratic candidate for mayor,
said Monday he hopes the city moves swiftly to implement the medical
marijuana law. He noted District voters overwhelmingly approved a
referendum in 1998 to legalize medical marijuana, but Congress blocked
the city from moving forward on the issue until this year.

"This is not a new issue," Gray said. "It's been around 10 years. We had
an overwhelmingly large number of people support this. ... I would hope
we could move this quickly and implement something a majority of people
said they supported."

-- Tim Craig

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