After a decade’s worth of wrangling to get marijuana legalized for medicinal purposes, the District of Columbia City Council appears to be moving closer to acquiescing the will of the people.

The measure has been derailed three times by Congress, but the Council recently convened a public hearing to further discuss Initiative 59, which in 1998 was overwhelmingly supported by residents who voted nearly seven to three.

However, a spokesman for At-large Councilman David Catania said the bill will be jointly referred to the judiciary and health committees before becoming a Council agenda. “The judiciary committee will mark it up first, and the health committee will mark it up second,” Ben Young told the AFRO. “I anticipate that it will be on the agenda as a whole by either or April,” at which time, the Council would take its initial vote.

A nod from the governing body would put the District in the company of Maryland and 13 other states that have made allowances for marijuana in the treatment of conditions that include cancer and glaucoma. Because Maryland has been known to set the pace for new bills up for consideration in the Disrict –including its recent thumbs-up recognizing gay unions — the expectation is that the city’s legislation will be a cinch.

But Washingtonians have mixed views on whether legalization is the right path to take.
“I’m against it,” said Northeast resident Mark Seales, 41. “It could get out of hand coming out of the cracks to sell it openly on the streets,” Seales continued. “I just don’t think the city should pass that kind of law, regardless.”

On the other hand, Ron Moten, who sits on the board of directors for Peaceaholics, a District-based nonprofit championing the rights of underserved communities, said there will always be abuse of the drug regardless of how and why it’s obtained.

“I don’t think it’s going to have a devastating impact because it’s already so obtainable in the community,” Moten said. “I think that for people who are sick, if there really is some medical benefit and if it’s monitored correctly, there should be no problem. “

Moten suggested that the District pay close attention to the success of other states that have enacted their own laws. According to the Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), Maryland, which took up the issue this year in the General Assembly, has yet to encounter any opposition.

Meanwhile, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said using federal funds to prosecute patients with chronic illnesses will not be a priority if they are complying with state laws on medicinal marijuana use. In that same statement released last fall, he added that authorities would refrain from raiding medical marijuana clinics that have been legally instituted under state law.

If the District bill prevails, the city’s plans already call for the establishment of clinics located across the city for dissemination of the drug. However, none of the clinics would be in close proximity to school zones or centers that offer programs and services to children.

MPP spokesman Kurt Gardinier said marijuana has a 5,000-year recorded history and scientific data that supports it as an effective medicine. However, he said it would still be illegal for people to sell marijuana on the streets.

“The way the D.C. law would most likely be implemented is it would allow patients that need it to have a safe access to purchase it,” Gardinier said. “Right now, they’re being forced to purchase it illegally on the street and we don’t feel persons with AIDS and cancer should have to go into an alley to buy the medicine that they feel works best for them.”

According to Gardner, once the City Council implements medical marijuana, that will no longer happen.