Earlier today I testified at the hearing concerning the amendments to Initiative 59. In order to fit in the 3 minutes that I was allotted, I gave a shortened version of the text below:
Testimony of Nikolas R. Schiller
On behalf of Himself and the District of Columbia Patients’ Cooperative, Inc.
Thank you Honorable Chairman Gray and Honorable Councilmembers Catania and Mendelson for allowing me to testify at this joint session of the Committee on Health and the Committee on Public Safety concerning the Legalization of Marijuana for Medical Treatment Initiative Amendment Act of 2010.
My name is Nikolas Schiller and here today to speak in favor of enacting compassionate regulations so that the amendments to Initiative 59 remain similar to what District voters overwhelmingly supported over a decade ago before Congress choose tyranny over the health and well-being of the residents District of Columbia.
I am speaking today on behalf of the District of Columbia Patients’ Cooperative, a not-for-profit corporation that was incorporated on January 15th of this year, in accordance with the spirit of the original language of Initiative 59, to assist in the procurement & dispensing of medical marijuana to patients & caregivers in the District of Columbia. The following business day after incorporation, the Honorable Chairman Gray, and Councilmembers Catania and Mendelson, introduced the amendments we are gathered hear today to discuss.
First and foremost, I am very appreciative that the Council has introduced the amendments to Initiative 59. Make that, I’m proud that my elected officials have the tenacity and foresight to do what other states have either feared or failed in doing, and that’s taking on the issue of enacting compassionate medical marijuana regulations. Thank you.
Now, let me tell you a little about myself and why I am testifying here today. I was born in Saint Louis, Missouri and moved to Washington, DC in 1999 to attend the George Washington University. In 2004 I became a full-time resident of the District of Columbia in the Westminster Neighborhood in Ward One. In the years since, I have become an active member of the Westminster Neighborhood Association and am currently working with the Honorable Councilmember Michael A. Brown on the Special Committee on Statehood and Self-Determination. I have twice been awarded the District of Columbia’s Commission on the Arts & Humanities Young Artist Grant and have become an internationally recognized artist. And while I might appear to be healthy, I am medical marijuana patient.
Here is a physicians statement stating that I have the right under California law to possess, cultivate, and consume medical marijuana. This document does not say what my ailment is, rather, it states that one doctor thinks my past medical history and current medical conditions warrant the use of medical marijuana. Simple as that.
If you are curious as to what condition I have, you will be disappointed to hear that I don’t have to tell you what it is. In fact, my discussions with this doctor are constitutionally protected free speech. Its also why I have issue with the current amendments.
Medical marijuana is and should not be relegated to being a drug of last resort. For millions of people for over the last 4,000 years, marijuana has been successfully used for the treatment of hundreds of different maladies, which are not all life threatening. Not surprisingly, many people legally use medical marijuana to improve the quality of their lives. And I’m not talking recreational use, but the therapeutic uses which the amendments fail to address. A list of qualifying conditions is not what District voters cast their ballots in support of. Rather they voted to support medical marijuana for any “serious or chronic illnesses for which the recommending physician believes that marijuana has demonstrated utility.”
After reading over the amendments a few times, I’ve come to the conclusion that many of these amendments were written for politicians and not for the patients. Let me repeat that. Many of these amendments are written for politicians not for patients. Councilmembers, please do not be afraid of Congress. We all know that they can take this away from us at any time, but we also know that in the last 10 years things have changed. Any member of Congress who decides to legislate on behalf of their second-class subjects in the District of Columbia will not be reelected. Public opinion has changed and the paradigm related to marijuana is shifting from a substance with no known medical use to a substance which has proven medical uses.
The fact that the Federal government still keeps marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug is laughable. It shows how disconnected federal policy is from the reality of the present, which is that the war on drugs has failed miserably. But its important for the District Council to know that a closed system of cultivation for dispensaries, which the amendments call for, is in direct violation of federal law. Simply, dispensaries cannot legally grow marijuana without breaking federal law and until federal law is changed an open system of cultivation is the only permissible, legal route that can be taken.
To circumvent the federal government’s lackadaisical laws, progressive jurisdictions like Oakland, California, rely on individual growers to supply the medicine. In this respect, the medical marijuana industry is truly a cottage industry. Meaning, the supply of medicine is not controlled by corporations, dispensaries, or the government, but by a wide array individual growers. This allows for a more robust supply chain which is less likely to receive interference from the federal government.
Therefore, the District of Columbia Patients’ Cooperative calls on the District Council to allow patients to grow their own supply of medical marijuana. By allowing patients to grow their own supply, the medicine that is not needed by patients can be sold back to the dispensaries for distribution. This prevents the medicine from being diverted to the black market.
More importantly though, we respectfully ask that the District Council address the rules on how dispensaries will be selected. Our organization has intimate knowledge of the medical marijuana industry and has developed numerous best practices that will ensure that medical marijuana is dispensed legally and compassionately in the District of Columbia.
We also have issue with the District Council preventing residents from working at dispensaries after being victims of the failed war on drugs. The current amendments imply that a white collar criminal like Bernie Madoff who has stolen billions of dollars can work at a dispensary, but a youth who happened to be caught with medicine cannot. The Higher Education Act already punishes youth with non-violent drug offenses by denying them access to government money for college education, and the District Council should not make this similar mistake in regards to employment opportunities. Had this Initiative been transfered to Congress a decade ago, many people would not have drug offenses preventing them from employment. In essence, do not punish District residents for what Congress chose to legislate without our consent.
Thankfully, District residents do not have to fear some wild-west scenario that other jurisdictions have experienced. A lack of regulations creates a void for the entrepreneurial to take advantage of and exploit. However, over the last ten years numerous best practices have been obtained in all levels of government. But from zoning to policing, the act of changing the status quo is not easy. And thats why the voters of the District of Columbia elected each one of you. We believe you will act on behalf of our best interests, and not what is in the best interests of some members of Congress.
Thank you and I am happy to answer any questions you may have.