The District of Columbia Council recently passed a bill on first reading that would change the way medical marijuana is managed and regulated in the city.
On Oct. 11, the D.C. Council gave its unanimous approval, 13-0, of the formal Medical Marijuana Reciprocity Amendment Act of 2015, which would expand lab testing to autonomous and non-governmental firms and allow patients the right to seek medical marijuana dispensaries outside of their ward.
Stephen Sherer, the executive director of Americans for Safe Access, is a proponent of the bill and cites its benefits.
“The original D.C. medical cannabis law passed by the council did not authorize the Department of Health to license independent testing laboratories to ensure product safety,” Sherer said. “This bill will allow patients to accurately know how much THC and other cannabinoids are in medical cannabis products and that they are free of contaminates, giving them greater confidence in the safety and reliability of their medicine.”
Medicinal marijuana was legalized in the District on July 27, 2010, when the U.S. Congress chose not to overturn a bill from the council that was signed by then D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray earlier that year.
The section of the legislation that has generated the most discussion is the lifting of the rule that allows District patients to shop at one designated dispensary. Under the bill, if a designated dispensary runs out or doesn’t stock a desired medical cannabis product, the patient can have access to the other centers in the city.
Mike Liszewski, the government affairs director at Americans for Safe Access, said that “lifting the single dispensary designation is a tremendous benefit for D.C. medical cannabis patients.
“Not only will this amendment increase patient choice in the District, but the increased competition should result in lower prices for patients,” Liszewski said.
There is also a provision in the bill that would allow medical cannabis businesses to move within their ward; it also enables ownership transfers and grants nurses the right to issue medical cannabis recommendations.
Not everyone in the District is pleased with the bill. Kathy Henderson is an advisory neighborhood commissioner for district 5D05 in Ward 5 and is a vocal opponent of any type of scheme legalizing marijuana for medicinal or recreational use.
The bill is “a step in the wrong direction,” Henderson told the AFRO.
“There is not one legitimate study that justified using marijuana for the medical treatment for illness,” the commissioner said. “This bill is for people who want to get high and buy their stuff in well-lit offices instead of out on the street. This is just an opportunity to expand opportunities for people to get high.”
D.C. Council member Robert White (D-At Large) told the AFRO why he voted for the legislation.
“Medical and recreational marijuana use is the direction of the city and the country,” White said. “As it unfolds in the District, there need to be sensible laws and regulations to govern it.”
White said that he likes the ownership provision, which fits into his agenda for supporting small businesses.
“We want to make sure that minorities have the opportunity to enter this this emerging market on the ground floor,” the council member said.
The council will vote on the second and final reading of the bill and go to D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) for approval and must pass a 30-day waiting period in Congress before it goes into effect.