Future of Medical Marijuana in the District Slow-Moving and Hazy

February 10, 2011

Alex Baca, Washington City Paper

Vince Gray's deliberateness is shining in a few areas this week—one of which is medical marijuana.

A town hall hosted by the D.C. Patients' Cooperative last night was scheduled a month ago; the advocates that organized it had hoped that by the time the town hall occurred, the mayor would have signed off on

php'>regulations approved by the City Council in November 2010. Alas, no such action has happened, and the process to implement cannabis growth and distribution in the District is at an impasse until Gray gets around to acknowledging it.

D.C. Patients' Cooperative, a non-profit advocacy group, hopes to apply to run a dispensary. But, given the lack of approved legal infrastructure, last night's four-person panel couldn't give much beyond speculation of how some things, like access to cannabis for low-income patients, would actually function. Without the implementation of the regulations—and, thus, the implementation of a board to oversee the implementation of the regulations—advocates' hands are tied.

The Department of Health's Deputy Director, who drafted the medical marijuana statute, said "The next step is for each of the agencies that the mayor had delegated to implement the program to being implementing the program. The Department of Health is doing their part, and the big bottleneck in the system is the mayor to appoint the panel that will accept applications for dispensaries and cultivation centers. It's out of the council's hands for now, which is what I represent, and it's really on the mayor to make the necessary appointments so the program can be implemented." ABRA director Fred Moosally and chairman Charles Brodsky were also in attendance.

Nonetheless, the group, which included D.C. Patients' Cooperative board members Nikolas Schiller and Adam Eidinger (who uses medical marijuana for his chronic arthritis) and Tony Bowles of the D.C. chapter of Americans for Safe Access, ably answered questions about what prospective patients, distributors, and growers might be able to expect if the regulations are approved.

A few highlights:

  • Patients will only be allowed to obtain their cannabis from one dispensary, which will be noted on their prescription card. This way, no one can double-dip and pick up the allowed 2 ounces at more than one dispensary.
  • "Cannabanoid profiles" break down what's in each strain of marijuana; notably, THC, the psychoactive agent that affects the brain, and CBD, which affects the rest of the body. Patients will, unquestionably, know more about what's in their marijuana than those that partake in the substance recreationally.
  • Medical marijuana in D.C. will likely be some of the most expensive in the country. Cannabis will need to be grown here, not imported, and rents are high. Home cultivation, which might reduce some of the expense, is expressly not allowed.
  • Patients do not need a clean record for a recommendation for medical marijuana; the recommendation is given by a doctor. Caregivers are allowed for patients who are not able to pick up their cannabis, but caregivers do need a record clear of drug convictions and felonies. Likewise, to work at a cultivation or dispensary, a record clear of drug convictions and felonies is required. (Yes, this means that you can have a history of violent crime or fraud and work at a dispensary or cultivation center.)
  • DCist notes that "If and when the program gets off of the ground, a big problem yet to be resolved is where cultivators will get their seeds. Getting them from out-of-state would be illegal, after all, so what are the options? The Metropolitan Police Department, ventured one advocate. Seeds from seized plants could be used, he argued."

One audience member asked if what was being discussed could actually be happening if the mayor had signed the regulations last month, as advocates had hoped. "Yes," said Schiller.

At the point, there's nothing for the advocates—and prospective patients—to do but wait, though there is little indication as to when Gray will get things rolling. Moosally indicated that the executive approval might come in the next few weeks.



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