D.C. Council speeds toward law that would let medical marijuana be used for many ailments

By Aaron C. Davis

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 month.

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.

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