Washington, D.C. -- Mayor Adrian Fenty issued an order today, moving Washington D.C.'s medical marijuana law closer to implementation. With the Order, Mayor Fenty also issued proposed rulemaking, which sets out the regulations that will be used to implement the law. A 45-day period will follow the proposed rulemaking to allow time for public comment on the regulations.
"We are excited to see the D.C. law move closer to implementation," said medical marijuana patient Steph Sherer, who is also Executive Director of the advocacy group Americans for Safe Access (ASA). "But, the voices of patients have barely been heard in this process, and if the law is expected to succeed we will need a place at the table." Sherer continued that, "Patient advocates are concerned about a number of provisions in the proposed regulations and have made a series of requests that have, unfortunately, fell on deaf ears."
First and foremost, patients are seeking greater involvement in the development and oversight of regulations. Specifically, patients are seeking appointment to the Medical Marijuana Advisory Committee once established by the District. However, the regulations only require that those "who possess medical or scientific expertise" be appointed to the committee. "Without patient involvement, the law will fail to fully address the needs of the people for whom the law was intended to help," Sherer explained.
The patient community is also concerned with the sweeping authority granted by the regulations to the Alcohol & Beverage Control (ABC) Board. Although the Department of Health is responsible for implementing the identification card program, an integral part of the law, the ABC Board would be in charge of licensing the production and distribution of the medication. "Medical marijuana is a public health issue and should be treated as such," said Caren Woodson, ASA's Government Affairs Director. "Instead, the District intends to regulate medical marijuana like alcohol, a recreational drug." Woodson continued that, "Patients needs are far different from the needs of those who use liquor stores or night clubs."
There is cautious optimism about the District's effort to decrease the cost of medication for low-income patients with the establishment of a sliding-scale. However, the details of how much cost-savings will occur remain unclear. There is also concern that a sliding-scale approach may fail to curb the already high-cost of medication for the rest of the patient community, after a requirement in the original initiative to make distribution facilities "comply with the District's nonprofit corporation laws," was ignored by the District Council.
Patient cultivation was another important measure aimed at significantly reducing the cost burden for patients, which was also ignored early on by District Council. All of the other state medical marijuana laws, with the exception of New Jersey, allow patients to cultivate their own medication. By growing themselves, patient can have direct access to a known, cheap, and consistent supply of quality medicine that works for their specific health condition.
D.C. Mayor's Order: http://AmericansForSafeAccess.org/downloads/DC_Mayors_Order.pdf
Notice of Proposed Rulemaking: http://AmericansForSafeAccess.org/downloads/DC_Proposed_Rulemaking.pdf
Text of I-59, passed in 1998: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/local/longterm/library/dcelections/races/dcq59.htm#text