By George Kevin Jordan, AFRO Staff Writer

Council member David Grosso (D- At-large) presented legislation that would give D.C. residents more access to the District’s medical marijuana program. This effort is one of many measures to reduce opioid-related deaths.

“We are all concerned with the ongoing tragedy of D.C. residents dying from opioid overdoses and this legislation provides another tool to address that crisis: greater access to the District’s medical marijuana program,” Grosso said in a recent statement.

Council member David Grosso (D- At-large) is advocating for a marijuana bill to help reduce opioid related deaths in the District. (Courtesy Photo)

Since 2014, over 800 people have died as a result of opioid-related overdoses, according to the D.C. Chief Medical Examiner. Two hundred and seventy-nine of those deaths were reported in 2017 alone, more than triple those reported in 2014.

According to the. National Center for Health Statistics at the CDC, opioid deaths rose nationally from 8,048 in 1999 to 47,600 in 2017. Drug overdose deaths involving prescription opioids rose from 3,442 in 1999 to 17,029 in 2017, the report stated.

The Medical Marijuana Patient Health and Accessibility Improvement Amendment Act of 2019  lets patients obtain provisional registration and same day access to medical marijuana.

The bill disposes of the plant count limit on cultivation centers to address ongoing supply issues, according to the bill. It also sets up employment opportunities for people impacted by the legal system and criminalization of marijuana.

Another huge part of the bill is letting dispensaries establish safe use facilities so that patients can consume medical marijuana outside of their home. This assists people who may not have anywhere to consume, the bill stated.

“Medical marijuana has been shown to be a viable alternative to the prescription of opioid painkillers, which can set people down the path to addiction,” Grosso said. “While we have made significant improvements to our medical marijuana program here in D.C., we can do more to improve access for patients and reduce opioid reliance and overdose.”

The bill was co-sponsored by Council members Vincent Gray (D- Ward 7) and Brianne Nadeau (D- Ward 1).

Grosso sited a study in JAMA Internal Medicine that found that medical marijuana programs reduce opioid overdose death rates by as much as 25 percent.  Americans for Safe Access also reported lower prescription rates of painkillers in states with medical marijuana programs.

Grosso pointed to the legislation as a key to steering business into D.C. community.

“D.C. residents are being diverted from the medical marijuana program to the unregulated, easy to access, underground market,” Grosso said. “That is posing real problems for the small business owners in the medical marijuana community, and our whole medical marijuana system could be in jeopardy if we don’t take action.”

Earlier this year Grosso pushed another bill on marijuana that pushed for a defined regulatory and tax system, and legalize marijuana consumption for personal use.

Although several states have legalized marijuana, D.C. could not create a tax and regulation plan which left the enterprise recreational marijuana in flux.

“This status quo has led to a confusing and problematic state of affairs with residents and businesses unclear on what is legal, what is not, and wondering how it can be that it is legal to possess marijuana but not to buy or sell it. We need to fix this,” Grosso said.