DC Council Passes Lab Testing and Program Expansion Bill

The DC Council passed a bill this week that will make several improvements to the District's Medical Marijuana Program. The bill, B21-210, will authorize the Department of Health to license third-party testing labs so that medicine the District can be independently tested for labeling and product safety. There were several amendments that were added to the bill at Final Reading and each was approved unanimously. While not all of the amendments were improvements, none are a step backward.

Councilmember Alexander and Council Chair Mendelson introduced a 1000-plant count limit amendment. While this artificially limits the production and variety of medical cannabis in the District, the current limit was already 1,000 through emergency and temporary legislation. The DC Department of Health (DOH) has often pushed against lifting plant-count limit, which was previously set at 95, then 500 plants. Many of the medical cannabis cultivation sites in the District were selected when the plant count was at lower statutory caps and therefore have had trouble reaching the 1,000-plant cap. However, the bill enables cultivation sites to expand or relocate within their current DC Council Ward. With eight licensed-growers, the program can handle its current capacity with the limit, but as more patients join the program, the limit may prove to be harmful. 

On the positive side, Councilmember Grosso's two amendments to improve the bill were also adopted. Now dentists, physicians assistants and NPs will be able to recommend in DC (the earlier version of the bill had something enabling nurses but it was vague and required action from the Board of Nursing). Also, the Council adopted Grosso's Grosso got an amendment knocking out the misdemeanor drug conviction exclusion for industry workers. These improvements follow a First Reading amendment removing the single-dispensary designation requirement, which will patients to shop at any dispensary in the District.

The bill also includes reciprocity and eases burdens on ownership transfers. The bill is expected to be signed by the Mayor and will then head to Congress for a 30-day review period. The bill will likely go into effect in February or March 2017; however, the reciprocity and removal of the single-dispensary designation requirement will not go into effect until after DOH implements a computer tracking system. ASA's earliest projected date for reciprocity and removal of the single-dispensary designation is late 2017.