Takoma ANC Wants Veto Power Over Pot Dispensaries

August 31, 2010

Matt Bevilacqua, Washington City Paper

Rabbi Jeffrey Kahn's plan to open the first medical marijuana dispensary in D.C. might have overcome some of its many impending obstacles last night. Then again, it might also have to face some new ones. ANC 4B—representing the area where Kahn wants to locate his mom 'n pop pot shop, the Takoma Wellness Center—voted at a special public meeting to recommend that the city council alter provisions attached to the law, approved in May, that legalized the use and sale of cannabis in the District for medical purposes. ANCs have until September 20 to get their non-binding recommendations in.

Most importantly, the commissioners suggested that ANCs be granted veto power—which no ANC has enjoyed before—over any proposal for a medical pot dispensary or cultivator to move into its jurisdiction. In the somewhat unlikely event that the city council agrees, the Takoma Wellness Center would have to win a majority vote of ANC 4B.

Commissioner Judi Jones can probably be counted as a "no."

Jones, who initially moved to effectively make no recommendation, said that she didn't have a problem with legalized medical marijuana itself, but objected to the manner in which single-purpose businesses, which all D.C. dispensaries are required to be under the law, would keep and sell the pot under a few specific roofs.

"You're basically promoting an open-air drug market in a retail setting," Jones said, storming out of the meeting before the final vote, when other commissioners threatened to strike the term "retail" from the ANC's revised statement.

Caren Woodson, director of government affairs at the patient advocacy group Americans for Safe Access (ASA) -- who has five sick relatives who used marijuana as medicine -- said that neighborhood dispensaries would keep needful patients out of situations in which they must obtain the pot illicitly.

"Patients shouldn't be subjected to the open-air market you're talking about," Woodson told Jones.

The ANC did ultimately incorporate into its recommendations some of ASA's own proposed amendments to the law, many of which will help potential distributors like Kahn run their businesses smoothly.

For instance, both ASA the ANC are hesitant about the fact that oversight rests with the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration and not the Department of Health, saying the latter will be much more prone to respond to patients' needs (and reputedly cooperates better with ANCs). ASA also suggested that the five spots be awarded in a merit-based process that chooses retailers based on security and expertise, rather than the current first-come, first-serve plan.

"You really cut the competitive process out of the entire system," said Woodson, adding that "[what] Rabbi Kahn has undergone here is a result of a rush for access" to the five available spots.

Finally, the ANC proposed that four new seats be added to the official panel overlooking the medical marijuana trade in the District, satisfying ASA's request for a patient voice by giving patients and their doctors one seat each. (Though they also suggested that two seats be reserved for ANC members themselves).

While Jones fears that allowing dispensaries to open in Takoma "will undo all our work in 20 years," referring to the methadone clinics that used to dot the area, Woodson reminded those gathered that someone will eventually have to welcome dispensaries and their operators into District neighborhoods.

"This is going to be a law forever on the books in D.C.," Woodson said. "You guys are going to have to begin these conversations now."


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