Drug Policy

D.C. Allowed to Implement Medical Marijuana Law

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Law Enforcement Against Prohibition reports that the final version of the 2010 Consolidated Appropriations Act lifts the restriction that prevented the District of Columbia from implementing a medical marijuana law approved by voters in 1998. The restriction, which prohibited D.C. from using any money to put the law into effect, was originally known as the Barr Amendment, after Bob Barr, then a Republican congressman from Georgia. Whatever happened to him?

The appropriations bill also "allows use of Federal funds for needle exchange programs," a development that will be welcomed by most drug policy reformers. My own view is that such programs, which help reduce the spread of blood-borne diseases such as AIDS and hepatitis B among intravenous drug users, certainly should be legal, but that using taxpayer money for them is needlessly provocative and sends the wrong message about the direction in which drug policy should move—i.e., toward less government involvement and more individual responsibility. By contrast, the message sent by government-funded needle exchange programs is that reform means forcing taxpayers to subsidize people's heroin habits.

Finally, in a move that libertarians, reform-minded liberals, and fiscal conservatives should all welcome, Congress is cutting the appropriation for the federal government's ridiculous, ineffectual anti-drug propaganda campaign by one-third.

I followed Barr's evolving views on drug policy here, here, and here. As an L.P. official and the party's 2008 presidential nominee, he staked out a federalist position on medical marijuana and called for lifting federal barriers to research on the drug's therapeutic uses. But I don't know if he ever directly addressed the question of whether he regretted overriding the decision that D.C. voters made in this area—which is not, strictly speaking, a federalist issue, since D.C. was created by the national government and is under the direct control of Congress. If you've seen any relevant comments by Barr on this question, let us know in the comments.

Addendum: Commenter Boston points out that Barr welcomed a House vote to repeal the Barr Amendment last July, calling it "an important step in the direction of individual freedom and properly limiting the power of the federal government." He added:

While I in fact sponsored the initial appropriations limitation in 1998, the years since then have witnessed such a dramatic increase in federal government power and an unprecedented decrease in individual liberty, especially since 2001, that I have come to realize that such limitations as the so-called "Barr Amendment" are not and cannot be justified. It has become necessary to reevaluate the power of the federal government that I and others once were able or willing to justify, and do what we can to roll back the tide of government control.