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D.C. Council to Expand Access to Medical Marijuana

Cannabis Plants in Pots in a Grow Room in Washington D.C.
Photo courtesy of Otherside Farms

Politics

D.C. Council to Expand Access to Medical Marijuana

Two Washington D.C. Council amendments that will expand medicinal cannabis growth and consumption are pressing forward in the nation’s capital. The Cultivation Act (bill 20-678) and the Expansion Act (bill 20-766) were presented in a public hearing Thursday, and the amendments closely follow the council’s decriminalizing bill to eliminate jail time for possession.

Cultivation centers in the District are currently limited to fewer than 100 plants. The Medical Marijuana Plant Cultivation Amendment Act of 2014 would allow up to 500 plants.

“If it were up to me, we wouldn’t even stop at 500, we would allow the businesses to decide,” Councilmember Tommy Wells told the Washington City Paper.

Wells is one of five co-sponsors of the bill, which was introduced by Councilmember David Grosso in February.

Increasing production will be a key factor in manufacturing edible forms of medicinal cannabis. D.C. growers are hesitant to offer such products, including pills and tinctures, as they can only grow 100 plants at a time — none have applied to sell anything other than herb, according to Vanessa West of the Metropolitan Wellness Center. West suggests edibles will be available 90 days after the cap is lifted.

Current legislation allows up to 10 cultivation centers within the District, but only three are operational, according to a report from the D.C. Department of Health. There appears to be a lack of demand on paper, an idea reinforced with low enrollment numbers: there are only 389 total patients since the program’s conception. Projections estimated there would be 800 patients by this time, almost one year after the first legal purchase in D.C. last July.

The only patients currently eligible for a referral are those diagnosed with AIDS, cancer, glaucoma and muscle spasms. This narrow list was met with outrage by advocates for medicinal use, as other chronic pain diagnoses were ignored.

The Medical Marijuana Expansion Amendment Act of 2014 will broadly expand access by allowing D.C. physicians to determine their patients’ needs. This opens all of the District’s 645,000 residents to ask their doctors if their conditions would benefit from medicinal cannabis — a large leap from less than 400. The amendment is backed by all 13 council members and the Department of Health has even begun allowing patients to apply online. Patients need a recommendation number provided by their physician to apply.

Dr. Krishna Upadhya offered the only voice of dissent at Thursday’s hearing. Upadhya is an assistant professor of pediatrics at Johns Hopkins Pediatric Specialty Clinic and said cannabis offers no medical use or benefit. Her concerns were aimed at the children and she warned that decriminalizing and expanding medical marijuana sends an “erroneous signal to youth.”

Despite the new legislation, D.C. regulation laws would be far more restricting than in states like California. According to a poll by the Washington Post, D.C. residents favor legalizing cannabis by ratio of almost 2 to 1; the council vote could come before summer recess in July.

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