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D.C. Council proposes legalization of medical marijuana

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By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Medical marijuana will be legally available at five District locations under a plan a majority of the D.C. Council supports, moving the city closer to becoming the 15th jurisdiction nationally to distribute the drug to chronically ill patients.

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Under legislation -- sponsored by nine of the 13 members -- dispensaries could issue a month's supply of marijuana at a time to registered patients who have prescriptions. Patients would not be allowed to grow marijuana, but the dispensaries could be set up in every quadrant of the city. A dispensary, however, would not be allowed within 1,000 feet of schools or youth centers, essentially keeping dispensaries out of many city neighborhoods.

Council member David A. Catania, chairman of the Health Committee, said the proposal, which could be voted on by the summer, would guarantee that the drug went to those who need it while guarding against a "Camp Run-amok program that invites [Congress] to come in and shut it down."

"If we have a tightly regulated system . . . it gives us a better chance," said Catania (I-At Large), the bill's lead sponsor. "I want this to be professional and orderly and evidence-based."

If approved by the full council and signed into law by Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), the District would join 14 states in allowing medical marijuana. But only California, New Jersey, New Mexico, Rhode Island and Maine have laws allowing government-sanctioned dispensaries.

Before the District can join those places, city leaders must still answer a host of questions about how the program would work.

The most daunting is who can be trusted to grow and distribute the drug. The city must also decide where dispensaries could securely grow crops in the District. Shipping the drug across state lines through Maryland and Virginia is not an option, because in those states it's still illegal to grow or transport marijuana for medical purposes.

"That is going to be resolved by rulemaking by the mayor," Catania said.

Attorney General Peter Nickles said the administration would work with the council on the legislation.

Catania's proposal is designed to implement a 1998 voter-approved initiative that called for the legalization of medical marijuana in the District. After Initiative 59 was approved with 69 percent of the vote, the then-GOP-controlled Congress blocked it from being implemented. But the Democratic-controlled Congress removed those restrictions last month.

"We have seen an increasing number of states that have moved in the direction of permitting medical marijuana, so we are moving forward," said council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), chairman of the Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary.

Catania said he believes his bill "will be a model for other states."


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