|Congress respecting the will of the people? What's next, democracy?|
"This marks the first time in history that Congress has changed a marijuana law for the better," said Aaron Houston, director of government relations for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), based in D.C.
The "Barr Amendment," a rider attached to appropriations for the District of Columbia, has forbidden D.C. from extending the legal protection of Initiative 59, the "Legalization of Marijuana for Medical Treatment Initiative of 1998," to qualified medical marijuana patients.
The amendment has long been derided as an unconscionable intrusion by the federal government into the District's affairs, according to MPP.
The House voted 221-202 and the Senate voted 57-35 to approve the measure.
The omnibus spending bill now approved by both chambers of Congress removes this onerous provision, allowing the District to finally implement its voter-approved law.
President Obama is expected to sign the appropriations bill this week.
|MPP's Aaron Houston: "This is the first time Congress has ever given its assent to a state or local law that permits medical use of marijuana."|
"This is not only a huge victory for medical marijuana patients and for D.C. self-government; it marks a history-making shift on the medical marijuana issue," Houston said. "This is the first time Congress has ever given its assent to a state or local law that permits medical use of marijuana.
"It shows that Congress is listening to voters, who have supported protection for medical marijuana patients for well over a decade," Houston said, "as well as to the medical community's growing recognition of marijuana's medical value.
"Coming on top of the announcement that the Department of Justice will not interfere with state medical marijuana laws, this shows that the ground has fundamentally shifted," Houston said. "It's time for the federal government to take the logical next step as the American Medical Association just suggested, and reconsider marijuana's classification as a Schedule I drug, which bars medical use."
Ironically, MPP in 2007 hired former Congressman Bob Barr (R-Ga.) -- the original author of the amendment -- to lobby to overturn it. (Barr now calls himself a Libertarian, and says he has repented from his former drug prohibitionist ways. Unfortunately, now he has no power.)
|MPP's Rob Kampia: "Today's vote represents a victory not just for medical marijuana patients, but for all Americans"|
"Our lobbyists have worked directly with members of the House and Senate and their staffs since 2006 to eliminate this democracy-unfriendly law," said Rob Kampia, executive director of MPP.
"In fact, senior appropriators in Congress sought out MPP staff to work through specifics and to help better understand D.C.'s medical marijuana law and the complicated legal maneuverings that led to the blocking of its implementation," Kampia said.
|Caren Woodson, ASA: "Congress has recognized the importance of medical marijuana as a public health issue"|
"By restoring Washington, D.C.'s medical marijuana law, Congress has recognized the importance of medical marijuana as a public health issue," said Caren Woodson, government affairs director with Americans for Safe Access (ASA).
"Washington, D.C., is not just the 14th medical marijuana state, this issue is now in the back yard of federal legislators and far more difficult to ignore," Woodson said.
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 end of the review, and local government officials will be tasked with creating regulations to oversee the implementation of the law.
The voter-approved medical marijuana law will apply to the 600,000 residents of the 70-square-mile District of Columbia.
Advocates point to ever-increasing scientific evidence confirming marijuana's medical effectiveness, heightened public support, 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's directive to federal attorneys in medical marijuana states have also contributed to a more tolerant environment, according to Kris Hermes, media liaison for ASA.
"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," Hermes said.
|Rep. Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.) strongly supported allowing D.C. to implement the legalization of medical marijuana.|
"MPP would like to thank Congressmen Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.) and Dave Obey (D-Wis.), Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) for their strong and abiding support of allowing D.C. to implement its medical marijuana law," Kampia added. "Today's vote represents a victory not just for medical marijuana patients, but for all Americans."
Congressman Serrano originally removed the ban from the D.C. appropriations bill back in July after years of working to protect patients in the District. Congressman Obey helped ensure that the change made it through the legislative process and into the omnibus spending bill Congress passed today.
Medical marijuana is legal under the laws of 13 states. Bills are under consideration in several additional states, including New York, New Jersey, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Text of 1998 D.C. Initiative 59, the "Legalization of Marijuana for Medical Treatment Initiative":