D.C. Council members introduced legislation Tuesday that would greatly expand the availability of medical marijuana to D.C. patients by doing away with the list of qualifying conditions that currently restrict access to the program.
A bill introduced by Council member Yvette M. Alexander, Ward 7 Democrat and chairman of the Committee on Health, would eliminate a list of four conditions that currently allow a patient to seek a doctor's referral to use medical marijuana. Instead the bill would amend the definition of "qualifying medical condition" to mean any condition that would benefit from medical marijuana treatment as determined by the patient's physician.
The council's 13 members unanimously sponsored the bill, virtually assuring its eventual passage.
Currently, the District's tightly regulated program identifies only four illnesses as eligible for medical marijuana treatment — HIV/AIDS, cancer, glaucoma, and conditions characterized by severe and persistent muscle spasms, such as multiple sclerosis. While officials believe as many as 40,000 of the District's 640,000 residents could qualify for the city's medical marijuana program under those conditions, only about 200 patients have been approved since the program got up and running in July.
"It has been made clear that this program is in need of a legislative improvement," Ms. Alexander said as she introduced the legislation.
In March, the District's Department of Health announced it would begin accepting petitions from individuals seeking to add new illnesses to the list of qualifying medical conditions, but medical marijuana advocates criticized the process as overly burdensome.
Health department Director Joxel Garcia has testified during prior council hearings that he supports leaving the decision up to doctors rather than government officials.
Ms. Alexander cited Dr. Garcia's testimony, as well as that of current medical marijuana patients and others who hope to gain access to the drug, as the reason for her support.
"While we are able to legislate what conditions we think are best, it is clear that the medical opinion of a physician should take priority in determining who obtains access to medical marijuana," Ms. Alexander said.
The legislation loosening the restrictions comes as D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray last week signed a bill decriminalizing marijuana.
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