D.C. Council Passes Major Updates To Medical Marijuana Law

November 04, 2016 | Geoff Marshall

By Michelle Goldchain for DCist

In a release, Mike Liszewski, government affairs director at Americans for Safe Access, also praised the move. “Not only will this amendment increase patient choice in the District, but the increased competition should result in lower prices for patients.”

 

It took more than a decade to get from a referendum where D.C. residents overwhelmingly voted in favor of medical marijuana to actually getting it on the shelves in 2013. It has taken another three years to pass major changes, some of which industry experts argue are long overdue.

The D.C. Council unanimously passed an omnibus bill on second reading earlier this week that would bring D.C.’s industry more in line with those in other states, with provisions that would allow patients who have prescriptions from other states to purchase medical marijuana in D.C. and lifting a one-dispensary-per-patient rule. Mayor Muriel Bowser also recently recommended doubling the amount that patients can buy from two to four ounces.

The Medical Marijuana Omnibus Amendment Act of 2016 will now go to the mayor’s desk for signature. From there, it wouldn't go into effect until after a 30-day congressional waiting period—and several provisions can only go into effect after a tracking program is set up.

Among the biggest changes made by the legislation is reciprocity with other states, meaning that patients enrolled in another jurisdiction’s medical marijuana program will be able to purchase medical marijuana in the District. With an increase in patients, there is also an expected increase in revenue, since marijuana is subject to the six percent sales tax, though it is unclear exactly how big that will be.

The law also lifts a rule that mandated that District patients only shop at one designated dispensary. If enacted, patients will have access to all medical cannabis products sold in the five licensed dispensaries in D.C.

DCMJ co-founder Nikolas R. Schiller called it a “really important” change for the more than 4,000 people who are registered in the medical marijuana program. “Some dispensaries have more products available for the patients, and the previous system required a patient to have to pay another $100 if they wanted to change dispensaries,” he said. “Very few other medical cannabis programs in the United States require patients to go to only one.

In a release, Mike Liszewski, government affairs director at Americans for Safe Access, also praised the move. “Not only will this amendment increase patient choice in the District, but the increased competition should result in lower prices for patients.”

Before both those provisions go into effect, though, the Department of Health will need to implement an electronic tracking system that keeps track, in real-time, of the amount of marijuana that is purchased as well as all transactions made by dispensaries, cultivation centers, and testing laboratories. A program analyst will oversee the database, monitor the medical marijuana supply, and identify out-of-state patients.

According to Schiller, the tracking system is meant to prevent diversion. Patients won’t be able to go to multiple dispensaries and purchase more cannabis than they are allowed in a single month.

Another major change: allowing people with previous marijuana felony convictions to work in dispensaries. “It is a powerful statement of where we are moving in our city,” says Kaitlyn Boecker, a policy coordinator at the Drug Policy Alliance. “Those who have been harmed the most from the drug war should also benefit. It moves us in the direction of reparative justice.”

The legislation’s other provisions amend the regulatory structures of the medical marijuana industry, including eliminating the cap on the number of plants a cultivation center can grow (they are currently limited to 1,000), allowing off-site laboratories to test plants, changing the mechanisms by which dispensaries and cultivation centers can be sold or expanded, and permitting health professionals other than physicians to recommend medical marijuana.



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