DC Inches Closer to Safe Access, Provisionally Approves 4 Dispensaries

April 13, 2012 | Mike Liszewski


The D.C. Deparment of Health's Health Regulation and Licensing Administration (HRLA) finally unveiled the names of the business that will be directly providing safe access through dispensaries to the District's medical cannabis patients. Yesterday, the HRLA announced which dispensary applicants received scores of at least 150 points during the review process. Only 4 dispensaries made the 150-point requirement, and according a District government official “[t]his list is pretty final,” meaning these 4 dispensaries will be the only providers in the District for the foreseeable future. And on top of the mere 1 dispensary per 125,000 residents, there is also the cultivation center plant limit of 95 at each of the 6 approved locations, meaning less that one plant per 1,000 District residents. However, at least now the "foreseeable future" includes includes safe access in D.C., even if it comes through the most severely restrictive program in the country. 

Those who have followed District's slow progress towards safe access to medical cannabis know that in May 2010, the D.C. Council approved B18-622, which was and remains the most restrictive medical cannabis program approved in the country.  In the nearly 2 years since passing the bill that limits access to those living with cancer, HIV/AIDS, glaucoma or severe muscle spasms have been waiting for the D.C. government to draft regulations and get the program up and running. Those with conditions such as PTSD and chronic pain were left outside the program, but there is movement from within the local patient activist community to get the Department of Health to add qualifying conditions to the D.C.'s excruciatingly short list.

While adding qualifying conditions is something the Department must consider, perhaps the greater priority right now from them is to begin the process of accepting patient and caregiver applications and issuing the ID cards that will provide them protection from arrest. However, because the DC medical cannabis regulations require each ID card is registered to a particular dispensary, the applications cannot be submitted until the applications are known. Therefore the next step the District government must take is to grant final approval to these dispensaries.

Given the slow but gradual progress made in D.C. over the past few months, the anticipated final approval time of late June seems realistic, but many deadlines have been blown by the District government regarding this program, including the statutory requirement for a report on patient home cultivation. Those who have fought so hard for safe access to medical cannabis in D.C. certainly have the right to be skeptical. It's now up to the D.C. government's actions are able to curb that skepticism, and ASA is continuing to work with local patient advocates to press forward.

Safe Access DC: http://dcsafeaccess.org/

DC Dept. of Health page on medical cannabis: http://hrla.doh.dc.gov/hrla/cwp/view,a,1385,q,578539.asp
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