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Legal Review: Drug Reforms Blocked in D.C.

By Washington D.C. Criminal Defense Attorney Matthew Wilson with Price Benowitz LLP.

Recent attempts at drug reforms have been blocked in Washington D.C. by a subcommittee in Congress. The city is working to expand its current law for the legalization of marijuana.

The legislation passed recently by the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government would also put restrictions on how funds can be used for safe consumption sites.

The legislation was passed by the subcommittee at the end of May and it is known as the funding legislation for Fiscal Year 2019. The provision that deals exclusively with marijuana clearly states that none of the funds from the federal government from the act, or funds raised by the local government, can be used to reduce the penalties for marijuana use or help enact any laws that legalize the use of marijuana.

During the election cycle of 2014 voters in Washington D.C. approved a measure that would have legalized the possession of low-level marijuana and even approved homegrown marijuana plants at a small amount.

The City Council was planning to move forward following the vote with a system for legalizing, taxing and selling marijuana. The City Council has not been able to move forward following the public vote because of the roadblocks enacted by Congress.

On a separate issue, the bill from the House Subcommittee would also prevent the use of funds for safe injection sites.

The language in the bill expressly bans the use of federal funds for paying for syringes or needles in an effort to prevent blood borne pathogens at supervised drug consumption locations. The language about the drug consumption locations is new to the legislation, while the other language has been present in the bill for years.

The legislation only mentions federal funds when it comes to safe injection sites, not local funds. Presumably, this would allow the City Council to use tax dollars raised to help fund safe injection sites if it wanted to do so.

“The opioid epidemic continues to grow in Washington D.C. and around the country,” Matthew Wilson, a drug charges attorney for Price Benowitz LLP, said. “Fighting drug charges on your own can be difficult if you don’t know the law or courtroom etiquette. Don’t risk your freedom by representing yourself in court.”

Advocates of safe injection sites claim that these sites help to save lives since users will be monitored by medical personnel who can help them should they overdose.

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