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Congress Overturns Amendment Barring Implementation of D.C.'s Medical Marijuana Law

Over 11 years ago, 69 percent of D.C. residents voted in favor of Initiative 59, also known as the "Legalization of Marijuana for Medical Treatment Initiative of 1998." However, an amendment added to the D.C. Appropriations Act passed in October of the same year by Georgia's then-Republican Rep. Bob Barr, which stated that "None of the funds contained within the Appropriations Act may be uesd to conduct any ballot initiative which seeks to legalize or otherwise reduce penalties' for marijuana" ("D.C. Initiative From 1998 Likely to Finally Take Effect"), prevented the initiative's implementation. However, as a press release issued by the Drug Policy Alliance on July 17, 2009 states, "The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation today removing a federal provision that bars the nation's capital from legalizing marijuana for medical use" ("U.S. House Repeals Provision Preventing Washington, D.C. from Enacting Medical Marijuana").

Ironically, the amendment's author - now a Libertarian - underwent a change of heart where medical marijuana is concerned and, as the Drug War Chronicle told readers in a July 17 feature, "has become an advocate for drug law reform -- including the repeal of his amendment" ("US House Overturns Barr Amendment, Removes Obstacle to Implementing 1998 DC Vote"). On top of Barr's own support for repeal, advocacy groups cite mounting pressures stemming from the 2004 death of D.C. resident and "quadriplegic medical marijuana user" Jonathan Magbie, "who was arrested and died in a DC jail for lack of adequate medical care," for pushing legislators to overturn the Barr amendment.

So, when will D.C. join the nation's 13 medical marijuana states in enacting compassionate, evidence-based, and pragmatic marijuana policies? According to the website Ballot Access News, "If the U.S. Senate concurs [with the House's decision], and President Obama signs the bill, D.C. will finally be able to implement Initiative 59." Judging from other states' experiences with medical marijuana ballot initiatives, that may not be as easy as it sounds, but it should bring some small relief to district residents, who have been waiting over a decade to see their votes counted.

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