Sunday saw the US Senate passing a bill which clears the way for the District of Columbia (DC) government to allow medical marijuana use. At the same time, they also cleared the way for local tax dollars to help low-income women pay for abortions.
More than a decade ago, DC voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure that would allow for the possession, use, cultivation and distribution of marijuana if recommended by a physician for serious illnesses, The Washington Post reports.
Initiative 59 as it was known, passed with 69 percent of the vote in 1998, but before it could take effect, Congress passed legislation banning the practice in the District.
The latest bill, which was passed by the House on Thursday, also continues to allow needle-exchange programs in a bid to limit the spread of HIV and AIDS, a strategy that Congress had blocked in the District until 2007. It also provides $752 million in federal funds for the District as part of a larger spending package and is expected to be signed into law this week by President Obama.
"This is the biggest win for home rule in decades," said Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District's delegate to Congress.
The District would join Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington in allowing medical marijuana.
DC Council member David Catania, who is the chairman of the Health Committee, supports medical marijuana but said city leaders will proceed with caution.
"I wouldn't expect it to be implemented anytime soon, because we are going to need to do thoughtful planning," he said, noting that guidelines must be written about who can grow, distribute and receive marijuana.
First, though, the District might need to submit the text of the voter initiative for a 30-day legislative review. During that window, Congress could take the unlikely step of blocking the initiative. If no action is taken, the District government can issue regulations.
Aaron Houston, director of government relations for the Marijuana Policy Project, said he thinks medical marijuana could be available in the District by the end of 2010. "They don't have to start over," Houston said.
A federal law known as the Hyde Amendment has barred the District and states from using federal money to fund abortions, but states are free to use local tax dollars to cover the cost of the procedure for women who cannot otherwise afford it. Private donations have helped some D.C. women, but supporters of abortion rights say many have been turned away from clinics and hospitals because the District government has had no financing for abortions.
Like this article? Get the RSS feed: