Washington, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser signed legislation this month to allow all adults in the nation’s capital to certify themselves to use medical marijuana. Under the bill, all adults aged 21 and older will no longer be required to submit a doctor’s recommendation to use medicinal cannabis when they apply for a medical cannabis identification card. Bowser signed the legislation into law on July 7, the week after the emergency ordinance was unanimously passed by Washington DC’s city council. After signing the Medical Marijuana Self-Certification Emergency Amendment Act of 2022, Bowser said that the bill would make it easier for patients to obtain medical marijuana from regulated sources.
“We’ve made it a priority over the years to build a more patient-centric medical marijuana program and this legislation builds on those efforts,” she said in a statement from the mayor’s office. “We know that by bringing more medical marijuana patients into the legal marketplace in a timely manner and doing more to level the playing field for licensed medical cannabis providers, we can protect residents, support local businesses and provide clarity to the community. I applaud the Council for moving forward this innovative solution to a complex issue, and I look forward to working with the Council and ABRA on permanent, more comprehensive medical marijuana legislation in the future.”
The bill was introduced by council members Mary M. Cheh and Kenyan R. McDuffie on June 27 and passed by a unanimous vote of the council the following day. Supporters of the measure maintain that the ordinance will simplify the process for patients to gain access to medical marijuana, particularly for those who have challenges visiting a doctor. Out of thousands of physicians practicing in Washington, DC, only 620 are registered to issue medical cannabis recommendations. Early this year, the city council passed a similar measure that allowed adults 65 and older to self-certify for medical marijuana card eligibility, but that ordinance expired on May 1.
Medical Marijuana Legalized in 2010
The Washington, DC city council legalized the use of medical cannabis in 2010 and decriminalized possession of marijuana in 2014. Later that year, voters passed a ballot measure that legalized the possession and cultivation of small amounts of recreational marijuana. City leaders would like to legalize and regulate commercial cannabis for use by adults, but action by Congress has prevented the implementation of a regulated recreational marijuana economy. Council members say that the new medical marijuana self-certification bill will also help address the city’s unregulated marijuana market, which has been emboldened by the 2014 ballot measure that legalized possession of cannabis by adults.
“Due to the lower barriers to access in the gray market, a significant number of medical marijuana patients have shifted from purchasing their medical cannabis from legal medical dispensaries to the illicit gray market, creating a significant risk to the long-term viability of the District’s legal medical marijuana industry,” McDuffie and Cheh said in a statement accompanying the emergency bill. “If this trend continues, it’s possible that gray market sales could wipe out the District’s legal cannabis dispensaries.
More than 40 unregulated cannabis dealers are taking advantage of a provision of Washington, DC’s recreational cannabis legalization initiative that permits adults to gift up to one ounce of cannabis to another adult. Following a popular scheme, these gifting businesses supply ostensibly free cannabis with the purchase of inexpensive merchandise at inflated prices. Representatives of the city’s seven licensed medical marijuana dispensaries say the unregulated competition poses a threat to their business.
“Savvy business owners have pushed the legal limits on the gifting industry,” McDuffie said before the city council voted on the ordinance. “I’ve had medical dispensaries that have reached out to me and my staff and say that if we don’t pass this measure, it could put their businesses into jeopardy.”
City leaders believe that eliminating the requirement for patients to receive a doctor’s recommendation to use medical marijuana will help prop up the city’s seven regulated medicinal cannabis dispensaries.
“Permitting patients to self-certify will provide a critical stopgap measure to help legal marijuana dispensaries retain and even win back medical marijuana patients from the illicit gray market,” reads the bill.
Brian Vicente, founding partner of the cannabis law firm Vicente Sederberg LLP, praised city leaders in the nation’s capital for the move to make legal marijuana accessible to all adults.
“The DC self-certification bill is one of the more interesting and bold cannabis policy proposals I’ve seen in my nearly 20 years of working in this space,” Vicente says. “This emergency legislation is the product of Congress’ continued obstruction of the District’s efforts to regulate cannabis for adult-use. It serves as functional legalization for all DC residents 21 or older who are willing to register with the local regulatory oversight agency for medical marijuana. It’ll immediately and vastly increase legal access to regulated medical cannabis for adults and bolster the District’s currently licensed cannabis businesses.”