Pubdate: Fri, 13 Jun 2014
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Copyright: 2014 The Washington Post Company
Author: Aaron C. Davis
Page: B4


Council Panels Try to Expedite Bill Calling for Broader Medical

D.C. Council members pressed forward with plans to broadly expand
access to medical marijuana in the nation's capital Thursday, drawing
praise from residents suffering from an array of conditions that they
say should qualify them for legal use of the plant.

Under legislation that all 13 council members have pledged to support,
the bill would strike from D.C. law a narrow list of four conditions -
including AIDS and spasms - that qualify residents to apply for the
legal purchase of marijuana. New guidelines would leave it up to D.C.
doctors to decide whether a patient might benefit from marijuana.

The push to loosen the city's medical marijuana program follows the
council's decision in March to eliminate all criminal penalties for
possession of marijuana for personal use, replacing a potential
one-year jail term with a fine of $25. (Smoking it in public could
still draw a jail term of 60 days, similar to the penalty for public
consumption of alcohol).

On paper, the proposed guidelines for writing recommendations for
marijuana would make the city's program among the most liberal
nationwide. But several restrictions - including licensing each plant
used for legal cultivation - would keep the program far more regulated
than in states including California.

The District's medical marijuana program launched slowly last year
after being tied up by Congress for nearly a decade. But with
bipartisan support on Capitol Hill now for looser medical marijuana
laws, council members said they were confident that a broader law
would pass muster with congressional overseers. Congress also shows no
sign of stopping the District law to decriminalize marijuana. Without
an act of Congress and the president, that should take effect next

To expedite passage of the legislation, the council's Health Committee
and its Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety held a joint
hearing Thursday and moved toward a full council vote that could come
before a summer recess in July.

Yvette M. Alexander (D-Ward 7), chairman of the Health Committee, said
that with just 400 patients in the District, or a few dozen a month,
approved for the use of medical marijuana so far, the city's year-old
program has yet to become the benefit to the District's 645,000
residents that lawmakers envisioned.

The committee also heard testimony on a companion bill by council
member David Grosso (I-At Large) that would allow the city's three
current dispensaries, as well as those allowed to open in the future,
to increase cultivation from a maximum of less than 100 plants to 500

Grosso said the increased production would be key to creating enough
marijuana so it could be manufactured into pills and liquids, which,
among other uses, are the methods of ingestion preferred for children
with debilitating epilepsy.

"If you push one button over here, you're going to have an effect over
there: We need to consider all of these issues together at once,"
Grosso said.

The city's health director, Joxel Garcia, said he supported giving
doctors more flexibility and added that the Health Department had
begun allowing patients to apply online for permission to purchase
medical marijuana to help more benefit.

But he urged the council to move cautiously, both in ramping up
production and raising expectations that marijuana can be a cure-all.

"The problem is, people come in thinking it is a panacea, and when it
fails, they are angered," Garcia said. He said the drug should be
thought of as experimental because it lacks any FDA guidance for
effective uses.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) said he did not
think it was Garcia's role or expertise to decide how many plants each
cultivator should grow. Wells said supply and demand would dictate

Thursday's debate took place as proponents of a measure to legalize
possession of marijuana, including home cultivation, continued to
gather signatures to place a measure on the District ballot Nov. 4.
According to a recent Post poll, District residents support legalizing
the drug for personal use by a margin of 2 to 1.
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MAP posted-by: Matt