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July 29, 1999

Congress Outlaws Medical Marijuana in D.C.
Barr Amendment Passes on Voice Vote
D.C. Appropriations Bill (H.R.2587) Passes House of Representatives
The House of Representatives today approved the D.C. Appropriations Bill by a vote of 333 to 92.  An amendment to the D.C. Appropriations Bill, introduced by Rep. Bob Barr (D-GA), passed the House today on a voice vote.  No roll call vote was taken because not one representative requested one.

The Barr amendment prohibits "the use of any funding to legalize or reduce the penalty for the possession, use, or distribution of any schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act."

This amendment was in reaction to D.C. Initiative 59, which would have allowed the compassionate medical use of marijuana by patients in D.C.  The initiative was voted on in the November election, but Rep. Barr successfully passed an amendment earlier that prohibited the District from releasing the vote count on the initiative.  So the results of the election aren’t even known yet.

Apparently, Rep. Barr knows something no one else knows for certain: that Initiative 59 was approved by D.C. voters.  He substituted this new amendment to try to “prevent the legalization of marijuana in D.C.” once the vote count on I-59 is released.

The new Barr Amendment will have wide-ranging consequences for law enforcement in the District.  Not only will medical marijuana programs be prohibited, but any reduction in sentences for any offense related to a Schedule 1 controlled substance will also be prohibited.  At the hearing on the amendment today, broadcast on C-SPAN, Rep. Moran (D-VA) stated that the Department of Justice was concerned that the poorly-drafted Barr Amendment might affect their ability to use plea bargains with drug offenders in D.C. and have other unintended consequences.

After the passage of the Barr Amendment, several local AIDS activists were removed from the House chambers for chanting, “FREE DC!  FREE DC!”

Also passed by the House today was the Tiahrt Amendment, which prohibits the use of federal or local funds for needle exchange programs.  The Whitman-Walker Clinic, a world-renowned center for AIDS research and treatment, has been running a needle exchange program in D.C. that has significantly reduced new infections of HIV by providing clean needles to injection drug users. The Tiahrt Amendment will make D.C. the only place in the country where Congress has declared local funding cannot be used to support a public health program approved by the elected officials of the locality.  The Tiahrt Amendment passed on a roll call vote of 241 to 187.

The Barr and Tiahrt Amendments again highlight the need for Congress to reform the way it is allowed to dictate policy for the District of Columbia and give fuel to the large “home rule” movement in D.C.  D.C. residents have no senators or representatives in Congress, yet all of their local laws must be approved by Congress.

The Appropriations Bill will now go to a joint Conference Committee of the House and Senate.  Neither the Barr nor Tiahrt Amendments are contained in the Senate version of the bill.

Call your representatives and demand to know how they voted on the Barr Amendment (since there was no roll call vote) and why they did not request a voice vote on the amendment so their position on the amendment could be made public.

House Switchboard:
(202) 225-3121

Directory of House Members:

Call and write your senators and demand that they remove the Barr amendment from the D.C. Appropriations Bill when it comes to a joint conference committee.  Check out the I59 web page for a list of conference committee members when they are announced.

Senate Switchboard:
(202) 224-3121

Directory of Senators

Call the President and demand that he veto the Appropriations Bill if it still contains the Barr Amendment when it reaches his desk.  President Clinton has stated that he will veto the bill if it prohibits needle exchange programs, but we need to let him know that the issue of medical marijuana is important to voters as well.

President Bill Clinton
White House
(202) 456-1111

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