The wrong overseer for medical marijuana in D.C.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Regarding the Aug. 8 Metro article "Liquor regulators may help oversee medical marijuana in the District":

The Fenty administration's plan to place the Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Board, rather than the D.C. Health Department, in charge of the medical marijuana program is flawed and should be reconsidered. This proposal contravenes the design and intent of the law passed unanimously by the D.C. Council, and the 1998 initiative approved by 69 percent of District voters, which envisions a pharmacy model for dispensing medical marijuana to seriously and terminally ill patients.

The Health Department is best suited to regulate and monitor dispensaries to ensure that qualified patients such as people living with HIV/AIDS or cancer have safe and affordable access to medical marijuana. It is also equipped to identify potentially harmful effects of medical marijuana in patients and provide referrals for substance abuse treatment if needed.

The ABC Board, by contrast, regulates bars, nightclubs and liquor stores. It lacks the experience and institutional knowledge to address complex health issues and the needs of the District's patients. It is also a politically unwise choice to manage the program. When a new Congress takes office in January, medical marijuana will be a ripe target for social conservatives, and the District's law could be overturned. Having the ABC Board in charge bolsters the false accusation that D.C.'s medical marijuana effort is not about helping patients but is instead a "stalking horse" for the legalization of recreational marijuana.

Wayne Turner, Washington

The writer is a longtime AIDS activist and was the sponsor of the 1998 medical marijuana ballot initiative.

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