Council chairman wants swift action on marijuana rules

By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 15, 2009

D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) said Monday that he wants to move swiftly to establish regulations for distributing medical marijuana now that Congress has voted to lift restrictions on city drug policy.

Gray said the council will use Initiative 59, which voters overwhelmingly approved in 1998, to begin crafting a policy that allows doctors to prescribe marijuana to patients with serious illnesses.

"We've waited 10 years. . . . I think the opportunity to send it is now," Gray said. "There is no reason to sit on it."

But one day after Congress voted to lift the Barr amendment, there was widespread confusion across city government about how the policy might be implemented.

Attorney General Peter Nickles said Monday that he has instructed his staff to review whether the council can use Initiative 59 to legalize medical marijuana or whether it is too dated to withstand legal scrutiny.

Even if it is valid, Nickles said, under home rule the initiative would still have to survive a 30-day congressional review period because the original proposal was never sent to Capitol Hill.

But Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), who played a key role in having the amendment removed in the spending bill, said she doesn't think the measure needs to go back before Congress.

In making its decision to remove the Barr amendment, Norton said Congress was under the assumption that the city would use administrative regulations to implement its medical-marijuana policy.

"Congress thought they were simply taking the ban off and the District would simply proceed or not proceed," Norton said. "After all we have gone through, I can tell you, the Congress is not anxious to see this issue here again. It's taken me 10 years."

Norton said she cannot guarantee that Congress would not try to block medical marijuana if the issue appeared before it without being entangled in a massive government spending bill.

But Gray said he doubts the House and Senate would intervene if the issue lands before them. He noted that Congress has passed only three disapproval resolutions on council bills since home rule began in 1973.

During the congressional review period, Gray said that city health and public safety officials would begin establishing regulations on how the marijuana should be prescribed and distributed.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2009 The Washington Post Company