D.C. approves 4 to be medical marijuana dispensaries

June 11, 2012

Jacob Demmitt, The Washington Examiner

Four potential medical marijuana dispensaries have cleared the last major hurdle in route to opening their doors in Washington as early as August.

After reviewing applications, the District Department of Health notified the businesses Tuesday that they are eligible to open dispensaries around the city, from downtown to Upper Northwest to Southeast. Now they must acquire permits and begin the normal process of opening a business within the District.

"[Applicants are] tired, a lot of them," said Mike Liszewski, a policy director for medical cannabis advocacy group Americans for Safe Access. "They're enthusiastic for getting it going, and they're looking forward to providing D.C.'s population with medicine. ... The progress has been slow and steady over the past several months, so I think D.C. patients have every reason to expect it to come through by the end of the year."

But people shouldn't expect legally purchasing marijuana in the District to be easy.

Only residents who suffer from HIV/AIDS, glaucoma, cancer or conditions characterized by severe muscle spasms will be able to obtain a permit to purchase marijuana from the Health Department.

Their usual doctor must write a recommendation for marijuana before a patient can apply for a permit card from DOH. Even with a card, however, residents will only be able to purchase the drug at one specified dispensary.

"D.C. is one of the most restrictive in the country," Liszewski said, adding, "Clearly we favor fewer restrictions, but we understand political realities and we're willing to work with them when necessary."

As for the dispensaries, D.C. rules say no marijuana or paraphernalia can be visible from the street. They must have security measures and can't be located within a residential district or 300 feet of a school or recreation center.

"I think it remains to be seen exactly what form they are going to take on," Liszewski said. "I think these places are going to -- more or less -- blend into the communities they're entering."

A neighbor of one of the approved locations, Metropolitan Wellness Center Corporation at 409 Eighth St. SE, thinks a marijuana dispensary on the same block would be good for his business.

"That's excellent actually," said Aslam Hayat, manager of Pizza Boli's on Eighth Street. "We deal with people all day ... a lot of the people you can smell marijuana on them. So it seems like a lot of the people are using marijuana. So I really like it."

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