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Pro-pot forces launch last-ditch lobbying effort

Advocates for legalized medical marijuana are launching a last-minute appeal to the D.C. Council to make major changes to its proposal to legalize the drug for medical purposes.

On Tuesday, the council is scheduled to give final approval to a bill that establishes as many as eight medical marijuana dispensaries in the city where chronically ill patients with a doctor's recommendation can go to obtain the drug. The bill, which the council unanimously backed in a tentative vote two weeks ago, restricts qualified patients to two ounces of marijuana a month.

To supply the drug to the dispensaries, the city will allow cultivation centers, but they will not be allowed to grow more than 95 plants at a time. Patients will not be allowed to grow their own marijuana.

At a noon news conference, advocates for legalized medical marijuana announced that they will be lobbying council members this afternoon urging amendments before members vote on it Tuesday. Specifically, advocates are calling for a self-cultivation provision. They also argue that the two ounce and 95 plant limits are too low for the law to be effective. Advocates also want the council to prohibit for-profit companies from bidding on the dispensary licenses, and are requesting additional protections for qualified patients so they can't be fired if they test positive for drug use on the job.

"Right now, if this passes, they are protected from law enforcement ... but if they test dirty at their jobs, there is no protection and they could lose their job," said Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safer Access.

Sherer said she is also optimistic that council members will at least agree to increase possession limits from two to four to six ounces. Some patients, she said, like to mix their marijuana with baked goods or liquidize instead of smoke it, so they need more than two ounces to do it effectively.

But Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), a sponsor of the council bill, said today that he does not think the council will agree to change the bill. Mendelson, chairman of the Committee on Public Safety and Judiciary, said the current bill strikes "the right balance."

"We are trying to work with law enforcement just to make sure it doesn't open the door to legalized pot," Menedelson said. "This is the balance we found."

One of the advocates lobbying the council, Chris Garrett, is a survivor of Aplastic anemia and says he needs marijuana for chronic joint pain. But Garrett worries that the current proposal gives too much authority to the D.C. Department of Health. Under the proposal, he claims, the Department of Health would have the power to overrule a doctor's recommendation that a patient needs marijuana.

"These decisions should be made by the patient and doctor," said Garrett, who lives in Southeast Washington. "If you have an acute illness or chronic illness, it is important you get the medication as quickly as possible."

Debbie Salmi of Jacksonville, Fla., is lobbying the council because she wants to move back to the District to be prescribed marijuana to treat her breast cancer. Salmi, a District native, said her feet got "burned" after she overdosed from chemotherapy last year. To relieve the pain in her feet, Salmi said her doctor put her on oxycontin and oxycodone, but she developed numerous adverse reactions to those drugs.

"When I got to 320 pills of oxycodone and oxycotin a month, that is when I said, 'I'm done,' " Salmi said. "I found medical cannabis in January and it allows me to sleep and relieves the pain in my feet."

Salmi, 52, wants the council to allow for self-cultivation so "people are not embarrassed" by going to a public dispensary.

"I want this bill done correctly," Salmi said. "I think what they do will set the standard for the nation."

--- Tim Craig

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By Washington Post Editors  |  May 3, 2010; 1:43 PM ET
Categories:  City Life , D.C. Council , Questions , Tim Craig  | Tags: Cannabis, Department of Health, Drugs, Medical cannabis, Phil Mendelson, medical marijuana  
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What a joke this rewritten bill is. The DC City Council should be ashamed when they talk about the 'will of the people' when asking for home rule. Does it really matter whether the city's voters are being ignored by Congress or the DC City Council? Shame on the DC City Council for imposing their will over that of the city's voters.

Posted by: bpayne2 | May 4, 2010 11:58 AM | Report abuse

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