- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 9, 2002

D.C. voters could get another chance to vote on legalizing marijuana for medicinal uses, but congressmen who blocked the measure in 1998 are already preparing to mount a challenge.

The District-based Marijuana Policy Project yesterdaypresented to the Board of Elections and Ethics 39,000 signatures from residents who want to bring the issue to referendum more than twice the number of signatures required under city law. If at least 17,500 signatures are verified, the issue will be on November's ballot.

"This safely qualifies us for the referendum," said Robert Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, a nonprofit that supports the use of medicinal marijuana for those afflicted with debilitating illnesses. "We did not want some bad guys in Congress to challenge us on this."

But opposition to the bill is brewing on Capitol Hill. Rep. Bob Barr, Georgia Republican, sent a letter yesterday to Rep. Joe Knollenberg, chairman of theHouse Appro- priations District of Columbia subcommittee, requesting that he include in the city's funding bill for 2003 an amendment that would block spending on the initiative.

It was a similar amendment introduced by Mr. Barr in 1998 that prevented the initiative from going into effect, though it had passed with 69 percent of the vote. Mr. Kampia's group later challenged the amendment in federal court, which ruled this year that the amendment was unconstitutional and cleared the way for a second referendum.

"The D.C. initiative is another attempt by the drug-legalization movement to move its agenda forward, to legalize marijuana under the pretext of 'medicinal' use," Mr. Barr wrote in his letter to Mr. Knollenberg, Michigan Republican. "My language is wholly appropriate and necessary, to prevent legalization of marijuana in the District of Columbia, and to prevent the use of taxpayers' monies to carry out the provisions of any such initiative."

Eight states currently have laws that allow the use of marijuana as medicine: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Oregon and Washington. All states allow residents who are seriously ill to grow and use small quantities of marijuana to alleviate the pain caused by the disease or treatment.

The Supreme Court ruled last year against medical necessity as a valid defense for distribution of medicinal marijuana. The decision struck down a California law that allowed groups like the Oakland Cannabis Buyers Cooperative to distribute marijuana to patients with a doctor's approval.

Advocates argue marijuana can greatly alleviate the suffering of people who have debilitating illnesses.

Mr. Kampia said medicinal marijuana is particularly important to the District, which has a higher-than-average number of AIDS patients. "We do not believe sick people should be put into prison for using medical marijuana," he said.

The group is lobbying Congress to stop any challenges to the referendum, Mr. Kampia said, adding that his group would not give up their effort to legalize medicinal marijuana in the District.

Five of nine D.C. Council members filed affidavits in federal court this year backing the Medical Marijuana Project lawsuit: Chairman Linda W. Cropp, at-large Democrat; Sandy Allen, Ward 8 Democrat; Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat; Kathy Patterson, Ward 3 Democrat; and Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat. Some council members say D.C. residents have a right to decide what they need.

"The initiative is justified on its merits, but it is also a matter of home rule," said Mr. Graham, who joined a news conference organized by Mr. Kampia's group at One Judiciary Square yesterday.

Mr. Graham said his support for the initiative grew out of his experience as former executive director of the D.C. chapter of the Whitman Walker Clinic for HIV/AIDS patients.

"I saw for myself the specific circumstances when patients need medical marijuana. I believe doctors ought to prescribe it . I feel comfortable about that," he said.

While marijuana does not cure any illnesses, studies show it can alleviate pain and help patients, Mr. Kampia said.

"It allows AIDS patients to eat, and that helps them stay alive," he said.

Under the initiative, people suffering from debilitating diseases could with a physician's prescription possess three mature marijuana plants, four immature marijuana plants and one ounce of usable marijuana.

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