When it comes to the distribution of medical marijuana in the nation’s capital, qualified residents who least can afford it could be in line for a break, as the District’s new mandate will include a provision for distributing the drug at a lower rate for low-income patients.

But according to Dan Riffle, a legislative analyst for the District-based Marijuana Project, patients that could benefit from the law that went into effect in July have already had to wait 12 years. He said in a recently released statement by the Project that as a result of the discount not being allowed until at least January 2011, many residents suffering from chronic ailments such as cancer, arthritis, HIV/AIDS and glaucoma, are being forced to wait before they can legally obtain the drug.

The Project further noted that the District still needs to consider and license potential applicants to manage the handful of dispensaries already earmarked for various locations in the city – but not within walking distance of school zones – before patients can legally obtain medical marijuana to ease their symptoms.

Meanwhile, the District recently published a first draft list of some 300 regulations, which Mayor Adrian Fenty and other local officials have been mulling over. Among them are that patients will only be allowed to legally use marijuana that comes from a licensed dispensary, and that packages containing the drug will have to display a health warning.

The law’s enactment has given Fenty the power to regulate the cultivation, possession, distribution and use of medical marijuana. But prior to the City Council’s approval of the regulations, the public will have an opportunity to express its sentiments.

Riffle added that while the proposed regulations are “detailed and comprehensive” there are several issues that need to be addressed before they meet final approval.

“For example, the draft regulations call for applications from prospective dispensary or cultivation center owners to be accepted on a first-come, first-serve basis, which could lead to the first applicants being awarded licenses, rather than the best applicants,” Riffle said. “Also, the lack of a competitive, scored application process—such as those utilized in Maine and other medical marijuana jurisdictions—raises questions of transparency and fairness.”