- The Washington Times - Friday, September 20, 2002

The U.S. Court of Appeals yesterday reinstated a 3-year-old amendment to the D.C. appropriations bill barring the District of Columbia from processing new laws that would legalize marijuana for medicinal use.
As a result, an initiative to legalize pot for persons who get a doctor's note to use it won't be put before D.C. voters in November, although advocates of medicinal marijuana collected enough petition signatures to put the issue on the general-election ballot.
When the initiative appeared on the 1998 ballot, it was supported by more than 75,000 D.C. voters more than double the number of voters who opposed it.
But an amendment tagged onto the D.C. appropriations bill in 1999 by Rep. Bob Barr, Georgia Republican, made it illegal for the District to spend money processing the initiative. Congress has kept the Barr amendment in the 2000, 2001 and 2002 versions of the appropriations bill.
The D.C.-based Medical Marijuana Policy Project, however, won a lawsuit against the federal government in March, when the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled the Barr amendment was unconstitutional. The court's finding was overturned yesterday by a three-judge panel in the U.S. Court of Appeals.
Kenneth J. McGhie, the general counsel for the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics, said the board was in the middle of making preparations to put the medicinal-marijuana initiative on this year's ballot when the appeals court handed down its ruling.
"Now we're back to square one, because the appropriations bill amendment prevents us from using any funds to further process this," he said. "We can't spend any money on sending the ballots to the printer if the ballots have the marijuana initiative on them."
If Congress pulls the Barr amendment from the 2003 appropriations bill an unlikely scenario, according to sources on both sides of the issue the medicinal-marijuana initiative still won't appear on this year's ballot because they already will have been printed, Mr. McGhie said.
Mr. Barr expressed satisfaction yesterday that his amendment was upheld. In a statement, he said that despite an aggressive campaign by medicinal-marijuana advocates, the appeals court's ruling "recognized the right and responsibility of Congress to protect citizens from dangerous, mind-altering narcotics."
Mr. Barr, who was defeated in his bid for renomination in the Georgia primary Aug. 20, added that putting the medicinal-marijuana initiative on the D.C. ballot would be an attempt to move the drug-legalization process forward and would be "ultimately harmful to America's war against drugs."
Medicinal-marijuana advocates were dismayed yesterday, saying their main disappointment is not that voters won't be permitted to weigh in on the issue, but that marijuana will remain illegal for seriously ill people who may be using it to subdue pain.
"We're saddened," said Steve Fox, director of government relations for the Marijuana Policy Project. "This decision by the court of appeals will cause the suffering of seriously ill patients in the city to continue."
Nevertheless, Mr. Fox added that he and other medicinal-marijuana advocates can't help feeling pleased that "we were able to do the work necessary to show that we had enough signatures and the initiative may be able to appear on another ballot in the future."
As it is worded, the goal of the medicinal-marijuana initiative is to prevent D.C. police from arresting "seriously ill people who use marijuana at the advice of their physicians."
Nationwide, eight states have laws protecting people from being arrested for using marijuana if they have a doctor's note: Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.
Stipulations on the laws differ in each state, and nowhere can doctors prescribe marijuana, because it's classified by the federal government as a Schedule I controlled substance.
Generally, patients grow their own pot plants, or they can buy the drug on the black market.

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