Bismarck Kennedy, the "Canines for Cannabis" Saint Bernard, led the DC chapter of Americans for Safe Access (ASA) in a rally on May 3 at the DC Department of Health to implore the DOH to begin registering patients, as DC's medical cannabis law requires. ASA is a national group that defends the interests of medical marijuana users. Speakers at the rally included Kayley Whalen, head of Safe Access-DC, Eric Sterling, head of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, Mike Liszewski from ASA, and Adam Eidinger, the co-founder of Capitol Hemp, whose two stores are closing following police raids that confiscated alleged "drug paraphernalia".
Background: In 1998, two years after California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana, DC held its own referendum--which passed 69-31, although Congress initially prevented the votes from being counted. Congress then blocked DC from taking any action until 2009, at which time the DC Council began drafting legislation. At a public hearing in February 2010, Dr. Pierre Vigilance, the head of DOH, testified that "there is documented evidence that demonstrates the drug's capacity to reduce nausea and vomiting, stimulate hunger in chemotherapy and AIDS patients, and, in general, to relieve pain." Altogether about 40 witnesses supported the bill and no one opposed it. The Council passed the law unanimously in May, 2010, albeit it in a very restrictive form that permits marijuana for only a short list of medical conditions.
In the last two months DC has announced locations for six of the 10 grow centers that the law allows, and four of the five dispensaries. In addition, a weGrow store opened on Rhode Island Ave. to sell supplies for growing marijuana or other plants. But no patients have yet been registered, nor has the DOH begun outreach to inform DC physicians about the law.
Although the federal government does not recognize medical marijuana, numerous studies confirm its usefulness and it is supported by many medical groups, including the American College of Physicians, the American Nurses Association, and the American Public Health Association. It also has been legalized for medical use in 16 states and at least three foreign countries--Canada, Israel and the Netherlands.
For some people it is almost a miracle medicine. The distinguished Harvard scientist, Dr. Stephen J. Gould--who reluctantly tried marijuana, after other drugs failed to control his chemotherapy induced nausea--wrote that "It is beyond my comprehension that any humane person would withhold such a beneficial substance from people in such great need."