D.C. council approves medical marijuana

WASHINGTON (BP)--The nation's capital is set to join 14 states in allowing marijuana to be used as a treatment for ailments after the D.C. City Council gave final approval and sent a bill to the mayor for an expected signature.

By a unanimous vote May 4, the council approved a measure to allow doctors to recommend two ounces of marijuana per patient per month to be obtained at five to eight distribution centers in the district. The mayor could raise the limit to four ounces per month if he chooses, the Associated Press said.

The proposed law does not allow patients and caregivers to grow their own marijuana, but an advisory committee could later decide to permit cultivation. If Mayor Adrian Fenty, a Democrat, signs the law, Congress will have 30 days to review the legislation before it becomes law.

Residents of the District of Columbia voted in 1998 to legalize medical marijuana, two years after California became the first state to grant approval, but Congress for years blocked the initiative from taking effect.

Penny Nance, CEO of Concerned Women for America, questioned the council's action, noting that it is more about "drug use than medicine."

The recreational use of "medical" marijuana in California is so rampant that it has become a common gag line in pop culture," she noted.

"Unquestionably, legalizing marijuana for medical purposes is a slippery slope. The proven consequences of legalization of marijuana are abuse and misuse. Women and mothers have enough to worry about without the easy availability of marijuana added to the list," Nance said.

"It is common sense that marijuana is a gateway drug to other illicit drugs and behaviors. It is mind-altering and inhibits decision making and discretion, affecting not only the user but others around them," she said.

Karen O'Keefe, director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, celebrated the council's action. "It has taken nearly 12 years, but the district will at last have a law that recognizes the mounting scientific consensus that, for many conditions, marijuana can be safe and effective medicine," O'Keefe said.

"A well-working medical marijuana program in the nation's capital will also provide members of Congress who have never seen such programs up close with a unique opportunity to do so," O'Keefe said.

"Once they see for themselves that these laws do nothing but provide compassionate care for seriously ill patients, hopefully they will understand the need to create a federal policy that no longer criminalizes patients in any state who could benefit from this legitimate treatment option."

The Marijuana Policy Project noted that more than a dozen states currently are considering medical marijuana laws, including South Dakota and Arizona, which are expected to consider ballot initiatives in November.

The Washington Post said May 5 that medical marijuana presents a particular conundrum for doctors, and in the district responses to the potential legalization were mixed.

"Because there are no uniform standards for medical marijuana, doctors have to rely on the experience of other doctors and their own judgment. That, they say, can lead to abuse," The Post said.

The newspaper mentioned a doctor in California who spends half his time evaluating patients for medical marijuana. A Rhode Island doctor told of a man who complained of back pain and claimed to have had no success with chiropractors and physical therapy. When the doctor found no documented evidence of such treatment, he refused to recommend medical marijuana.

A Washington Post poll earlier this year found broad support for medical marijuana, with eight in 10 residents of the District of Columbia favoring it.

Nationally, the debate over marijuana has heightened with the looming vote in California in November to make it the first state to legalize the recreational use of marijuana.

Organizers of the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010 have collected enough signatures to place the question on the ballot -- alongside the choice for the state's next governor -- to allow California residents age 21 and older to grow marijuana in a 5-by-5-foot household space and to possess or transport up to 1 ounce. The proposed law would prohibit the possession of marijuana on school grounds, using it in public, smoking it while minors are present or providing it to anyone under 21 years of age. Cities and counties would be allowed to impose a tax on the sale of the drug, constituting perhaps the most popular selling point for pro-marijuana advocates: an aid to the state's economic stress.

Barrett Duke, vice president for public policy with the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, noted in a March 31 column in Baptist Press that Mexican authorities "are complaining that medical marijuana laws in our nation are making it more difficult for them to press their battle against the massive drug problem in their country. I can only imagine what they will say about the effects the legalization of marijuana in California will have on their efforts."


Compiled by Baptist Press staff writer Erin Roach.

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