GLAA defends medical marijuana, opposes felony status for possession
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GLAA defends medical marijuana, opposes felony status for possession

Testimony on Bill 13-240,
the Distribution of Marijuana Amendment Act of 1999

Delivered before the Committee on the Judiciary

MAY 10, 2000

Good morning, Chairman Brazil, Councilmembers and fellow citizens.

My name is Bob Summersgill. I am President of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington (GLAA), the oldest continuously active gay and lesbian civil rights organization in the country.

I am disappointed that bill 13-240, the Distribution of Marijuana Amendment Act of 1999, has been introduced and I strongly urge you to kill it. This bill is identical to bill 12-12, which the Council soundly defeated 3 years ago. We were dismayed that the Council this year tried to move this bill forward without hearings, and then made no attempt to contact the people and groups which testified against it last time.

GLAA opposed that bill on the argument that it would make felons out of the critically ill and their loved ones who obtain marijuana for medical use to stem nausea and wasting syndrome in people with AIDS.

Since 1997, the argument for compassionate use of medical marijuana has only gotten stronger. In 1999, the Institute of Medicine — part of the National Academy of Sciences — on contract from the Clinton Administration's drug Czar, issued the definitive report on the medical benefits of marijuana.

The report is clear. Marijuana has clear and definite medical benefit for the relief of pain, nausea, tremors as well as appetite stimulation. This is critical for people undergoing cancer chemotherapy, AIDS wasting, Multiple Sclerosis and a host of other diseases. While smoking a plant is a poor drug delivery system, which introduces its own health risks, it is often superior to other available medications including Marinol which is currently only available as a pill, the least useful means of providing anti-nausea medication.

Further, the citizens of the District have overwhelmingly approved the use of medical marijuana in a ballot initiative. That initiative was not only supported by a majority of Councilmembers, but also won in every single voting precinct in the city. DC is not alone. So far Alaska, Washington, California, Arizona, Nevada, Oregon, Maine, and Hawaii have also approved laws allowing doctors to recommend marijuana use by patients suffering from cancer, AIDS and other conditions.

Congress and the US Attorney's Office, which is backing this bill, unconstitutionally blocked counting the vote on I-59. They have successfully blocked implementation of I-59 in part of a long line of offenses against the voting rights of the citizens of Washington.

The current bill provides no exception for the compassionate use of medical marijuana. It ignores I-59 and the overwhelming vote of the citizens of the district. It removes prosecution of possession charges from DC Control under the purview of the Corporation Counsel-where we can expect some reasonable and compassionate treatment as well as oversight of prosecutors-and moves it to the US Attorney's Office which finds no basis for compassionate use, has no oversight responsive to DC and from which, under current Congressional home rule interference, we could not regain control.

This bill also has no provision for possession amounts that would trigger felony charges. One seed, or even less would result in 5 years imprisonment. No difference is found for one joint or one truckload. This is irrational. It makes no sense and unduly punishes people for possession of life sustaining medicine.

This bill is an abuse of the schedules for controlled substances that are based on their addictive properties, potential for abuse and currently accepted medical use; not the crimes committed as a result of their prohibition.

We sympathize with earlier testimony from people living near drug markets. This is also not the environment in which sick people should need to go to buy life sustaining medications. They need a wider range of drugs from pharmacies.

GLAA favors the development of safe, rapid on-set delivery systems for the medicinal chemicals in marijuana. Smoked marijuana is not an end goal in providing healthcare. Unfortunately, the current irrational prohibitions on marijuana are significant barriers to research in those areas. The authors of the Institute of Medicine's report sharply criticized the policies of the Drug Czar and the Clinton administration for frustrating research into cannabinoids such as THC.

However, until such time as medical alternatives are available, it is wrong to make felons out of the sick and dying and those that care for them. Further, it is always wrong for the DC Council to turn control of District matters to the Federal government.

I strongly urge you to vote against bill 13-240.

Thank you, I am available to answer any questions that you may have.

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