Becoming a Patient in the District of Columbia
Summary of the Law
Medical cannabis (marijuana) was approved by the voters of the District of Columbia in 1998 with Initiative 59; however, Congress prevented the law from being implemented through an amendment tacked on each year to the D.C. Budget. When the prohibition was finally lifted in late 2009, the D.C Council began to draft a new bill to replace Initiative 59. In addition to the law approved by the D.C. Council in 2010 (B18-0622), the District’s medical marijuana program is also governed by title 22, subtitle C of the District of Columbia Municipal Regulations.
The law and rules allow registered patients and caregivers to possess up two (2) ounces of dried medical cannabis or other forms (ie. edibles, tinctures, topicals, etc.). Neither patients nor their caregivers are permitted to cultivate their own medicine and may only legally acquire medicine from the specific dispensary they are registered to. In order to become registered, a patient must receive a recommendation from physician who is licensed to practice medicine in the District. Patients and caregivers in D.C. must register to a specific dispensary and may only purchase medical cannabis products (including paraphernalia) from that dispensary. Those who wish to switch dispensary membership must submit paperwork and a fee to the D.C. Department of Health (DOH). Patients who’s income is less than 200% of the federal poverty level are eligible for reduced fees and medicine prices.
In 2014, two major statutory changes were made to the program in the Medical Marijuana Expansion Emergency Act of 2014. First, the restrictions on what conditions physicians may recommend medical marijuana for were lifted. Now physicians are able to recommend medical marijuana for any condition that they feel a patient can receive medical benefit and the potential benefits outweigh the potential risks. The second change was an increase in the cultivation center plant limit from 95 to 500 live marijuana plants (regardless of stage of maturity).
How to Become a Patient
Only residents of the District of Columbia are eligible to become qualifying patients. To become a legally registered patient, a patient must first obtain a recommendation from a physician who is licensed to practice medicine in the District of Columbia. If a patient's physician thinks that medical cannabis therapy is appropriate to treat the patient's medical condition, the physician can recommend using the D.C. Dept. of Health online recommendation process.
Under the Medical Marijuana Expansion Amendment Emergency Act of 2014, physician may recommend marijuana for any condition a patient might have that the physician feels the use of marijuana would provide benefit. There is no longer a restricted list of qualifying conditions imposed on physicians and patients in the District of Columbia.
Once a patient has a completed recommendation form from their physician, they must submit it along with a registration application to DOH. Patient can download application forms from the DOH website at (http://doh.dc.gov/service/medical-marijuana-program). Patients may fill out Patients who do not have access to the internet can pick up forms from DOH at (899 N. Capitol Street, NE 2nd Floor) or may visit their local D.C. Public Library. The application fee is $100 for both each patient and caregiver.
Patients who whose income is equal to or less than two hundred percent (200%) of the federal poverty level pay a reduced fee application fee of $25 for patient and caregiver. Instructions on how to demonstrate eligibility for the reduce rate is in the patient application form.
Photo and Proof of Residency
Included with the patient application form, patients must submit two (2) recent passport-type photographs and a clear copy of U.S., state, or District government-issued photo ID as proof of identity. Additionally, D.C. patient applicants must include proof of District residency (ie. lease/rental agreement, utility bill, etc.), which is explained in detail on in the application form.
When filling out the application form, a patient must select which of one of the District's medical marijuana dispensaries the patient wishes to register to. Patients who wish to switch to another dispensary must fill out a new application form and pay a new application fee.
Notes on Possession Limits
Patients must be in possession of their registration card issued by DOH in order to be legally protected. The maximum possession amount by a patient is two (2) ounces. Reciprocity does not exist for visiting patients who are not District residents and registered in the D.C. program. Patients may not cultivate their own medicine. Only medicine and paraphernalia purchased in dispensaries is considered protected by the law.
Patients may possess up to two (2) ounces of medicine another form, such as edibles, topicals and tinctures. Additionally, a patient may only purchase a maximum of two (2) ounces of medicine in any 30-day period. The total weight of the product is included in the current application of the 2-ounce rule. Therefore, patients should be aware that that if they consume 2 grams of medicine per day, they will run out medicine before the 30-day period.
In 2016, the DOH MMP Scientific Subcommittee voted to increase the possession limit to four (4) ounces; however, the increase has not gone into effect as of August 2016.
There is no restriction on minors being medical cannabis patients in the District of Columbia. However, the parent or legal guardian of a minor in need of medical cannabis therapy must grant informed consent and agree to serve as the minor patient’s caregiver (or designate another adult over 18 years of age to be their child's caregiver). Minor patients are not allowed to administer their own medicine. Emancipated minors do not need a parent or guardian to grant consent or agree to be their caregiver. Parents or guardians of minor patients should use the Minor Patient Application Form on the DOH Medical Marijuana website.
Patients are allowed to designate one person to be their “designated caregiver” to assist them with their medical cannabis therapy. Caregivers are selected when the patients fills out and submits their registration application to DOH. A caregiver must be at least 18 years-old, not have a conviction for possession or selling of a controlled substance, and may only serve one qualifying patient at any given time. Caregivers must be in possession of their DOH-issued registration card in order to receive legal protections when handling or transporting their patient’s medicine.
Caregivers have the same legal protections that patients have, except they are strictly forbidden from consuming and of their patient’s medical cannabis. Caregivers who divert medical cannabis to a party other than their patient are subject to penalties under the District’s controlled substances act.
A patient must list their caregiver on the patient application form; however, caregivers must also fill out their own application form, which is found on the DOH Medical Marijuana website. Instructions are similar to those for patient applicants, including photo and ID requirements and eligibility for reduced fees for financial hardship.
Caregiver application forms are submitted with the patient's patient application form.
Criminal Background Check
All those apply to be a caregiver must submit to a criminal background check. There is a separate fee for the background check from the caregiver application fee. Instruction on how schedule a background check are found on page 2 of the caregiver application form.