WASHINGTON --The U.S. House of Representatives paved the way for the legalization of medical marijuana in the District of Columbia when they approved a spending bill that dropped an amendment that previously had banned the drug's use.
The bill, which passed by a narrow 219-208 margin July 16, was the first of its kind in a decade that did not include the Barr amendment, a provision that had prevented Washington from implementing a medical marijuana law passed by 69 percent of voters in 1998.
The amendment, named for former Rep. Bob Barr, R.-Ga., initially was included in the spending bill in 1999 when Barr expressed a desire that no monies appropriated under the spending bill be used for ballot initiatives for drug legalization.
Congress had passed the Barr amendment every year since, until Democrats gained enough votes to remove it in the 2010 spending bill, which provides $768 million in federal money for the D.C. government.
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In 2002, Barr cited a "responsibility of Congress to pass laws protecting citizens from dangerous and addictive narcotics and the right of Congress to exert legislative control over the District of Columbia as the nation's capital."
Barr, who served in Congress from 1995-2003, has since reversed his position on medical marijuana, joining the Libertarian Party and becoming a lobbyist for the Marijuana Policy Project, an organization which sought the removal of the Barr amendment.
"I, over the years, have taken a very strong stand on drug issues, but in light of the tremendous growth of government power since 9/11, it has forced me and other conservatives to go back and take a renewed look at how big and powerful we want the government to be in people's lives," Barr said in a Politico article in 2007.
Now he lobbies for the rights of states to set their own medical marijuana policy without federal interference.
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Barrett Duke, vice president for public policy and research for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, has called medicinal marijuana "the Trojan horse of the marijuana decriminalization movement."
"The movement sees it as the means to appeal to people's compassion in order to change public opinion about marijuana and ease the way toward decriminalization of marijuana," Duke said.
In March, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the federal government no longer will raid medical marijuana distributors if they are in violation only of federal law and not of state law. The new policy under President Obama marks a switch from that of the previous administration.
Before medical marijuana can become legal in the District of Columbia, the spending bill must pass the Senate and be signed into law by the president. The spending bill also has come under fire because it allows the D.C. government to use taxpayer funds to provide abortions.