WASHINGTON – If medicinal marijuana becomes legal in Washington, D.C., Maryland resident Leslie Miller is willing to pack her bags and move.
The Chestertown computer consultant said she took marijuana to control the debilitating pain in her legs and back after a 1990 car accident. But she is on probation now, after being pulled over last year for speeding and then arrested for possessing 2 grams of marijuana.
But Miller, 42, sees fresh hope for people like herself, after the passage of Initiative 59 in the District, which would allow the use of marijuana on a doctor’s recommendation.
“God gave me this body to take care of, and if I have to move into D.C. to do that, I will,” she said.
The Marijuana Policy Project in Washington estimates that there are at least 2,000 people in Maryland like Miller who use marijuana for medicinal purposes. Project spokesman Chuck Thomas said that, like her, at least some people from neighboring states might be tempted to move to the District if it legalizes the use of marijuana.
“I know many people moved to California, where marijuana use for medicinal purposes is legal,” he said.
Before that happens, though, the D.C. initiative will have to get by members of Congress, who have vowed to block what they see as an end run around drug laws and “the worst kind of quackery” in terms of medicine.
D.C. voters approved Initiative 59 overwhelmingly in November, but the results were kept sealed until a federal judge ordered the ballots counted this month, after Congress initially denied funding for the tally.
Possessing marijuana is currently a misdemeanor in both the District and Maryland. In Maryland, possession is punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of $1,000.
But Initiative 59 would legalize the possession, use, cultivation and distribution of marijuana in the District, if it was recommended by a physician for treatment of serious illnesses.
Four states — California, Alaska, Oregon and Washington — currently have laws that let patients use marijuana without fear of arrest, so long as they have a doctor’s written recommendation. Arizona passed limited laws last year allowing use of medicinal marijuana and Colorado and Nevada have medicinal marijuana initiatives on the November 2000 ballot.
In the 1970s and 1980s, states including Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Alabama and Louisiana passed laws that let doctors recommend marijuana but did not waive criminal penalties for users, Thomas said.
Maryland is one of 16 states with absolutely no laws on the medicinal use of marijuana and Thomas and others said they were not aware of any efforts in the state to legalize medicinal marijuana.
State officials say they are worried about the potentially dangerous side effects of such a law. The Maryland Alcohol and Drug Abuse Administration is “still reviewing the medical use of marijuana — we have not yet taken any position on it,” said Thomas Davis, director of the agency.
“We are concerned about the psychological effect this may have on people, and the abuse potential of marijuana outside a controlled environment like a hospital,” he said. Davis said he hopes any move by the District on medical marijuana would take these factors into account.
But Thomas said abuse is not a likely fallout of the D.C. initiative.
“People still need a doctor’s recommendation to possess marijuana. It’s not so easy to just sideline the laws,” he said.
But Republicans in Congress are confident that the D.C. initiative will never become law.
Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., whose budget amendment last year blocked the counting of the initiative ballots, has amended this year’s District budget to prohibit the city from legalizing marijuana.
“It would be a travesty for Congress to stand by and allow a handful of activists to overturn federal narcotics laws with an argument that is, medically speaking, the worst kind of quackery,” Barr said in a prepared statement.
Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va. and chairman of the House subcommittee that oversees the District, said the referendum is too dangerous in its current form because it does not require a doctor’s prescription, just a recommendation, according to a spokesman.
But Thomas said the difference between a prescription and a written recommendation was the difference between “a slip of paper and a letterhead.”
People in the District have a right to decide for themselves on the issue of medicinal marijuana without interference from congressmen from other states, he said. Despite the opposition to Initiative 59, Thomas said he believes it has a “decent” chance.
Leslie Miller hopes he is right.
“How can we not educate and treat people who need medical marijuana?” she asked.