By approving the 2010 Consolidated Appropriations Act on December 13, the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives have voted to lift the ban on using federal funding for needle exchange programs nationwide. The appropriations bill now moves to President Barack Obama for signing.

Studies show that distributing sterilized needles can greatly reduce HIV transmission and high-risk behavior among injection drug users.

This vote “demonstrates Congress’ continued commitment to science-based health policy,” Paul Kawata, executive director of the National Minority AIDS Council, said in a statement. “In light of health care funding cuts in many states during the recent economic downturn, increased support for syringe exchange programs will help agencies nationwide continue their work mitigating the impact of HIV, particularly in communities of color, which have been hardest hit by AIDS epidemic since it began.”

Additionally, the appropriations legislation includes a measure to lift the “Barr Amendment,” added by then-Congressman Bob Barr (R-GA) to prevent implementation of the “Legalization of Marijuana for Medical Treatment Initiative of 1998.”

“By restoring Washington, DC’s medical marijuana law, Congress has recognized the importance of medical marijuana as a public health issue,” said Caren Woodson, government affairs director with Americans for Safe Access (ASA). “Washington, DC, is not just the 14th medical marijuana state. This issue is now in the backyard of federal legislators and far more difficult to ignore.”

Marijuana has been proved to treat both the symptoms of HIV as well as medication side effects.