Federal Judge Overturns Ban on Medical Marijuana Ballot Initiative in Washington, D.C.
A federal judge yesterday overturned a law preventing Washington, D.C., residents from circulating a petition or voting on a ballot initiative to legalize medical marijuana, the Washington Post reports. U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan said in the ruling that the Barr Amendment, named after its sponsor Rep. Robert Barr (R-Ga.), is unconstitutional (Santana, Washington Post, 3/29). In 1998, Congress attached the amendment, which prevents public funds from being used on any law that reduced criminal penalties for possession or use of marijuana for any reason, as an annual rider to the District's appropriations bill. That amendment blocked the implementation of a D.C. referendum passed that year that legalized medicinal marijuana (Shaffrey/Ward, Washington Times, 3/29). "There can be no doubt that the Barr Amendment restricts plaintiffs' First Amendment right to engage in political speech," Sullivan wrote. Proponents of legalizing medicinal marijuana, which can be used to alleviate pain and appetite loss associated with HIV/AIDS and other chronic illnesses, went to court in December seeking an injunction that would bar enforcement of the federal law. A medical marijuana initiative could be on the ballot as early as this November's elections, although the Post notes that the "timeline is tight." Proponents of the measure must collect 16,000 valid signatures by July 5 in order to put the initiative on the ballot. If the initiative is approved, the District would become the nation's ninth jurisdiction to eliminate criminal sanctions against those who use marijuana for medicinal purposes (Washington Post, 3/29).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.