D.C. Council bill proposes five pot dispensaries

City considering rules for medicinal marijuana system

The District would cap the number of licensed medical marijuana dispensaries at five, prohibit pot shops within 1,000 feet of schools and attempt to forestall illegal distribution of the drug under legislation now before the D.C. Council.

Congress recently lifted the decade-old budget rider barring the nation's capital from implementing Initiative 59: a 1998 ballot question backed by 69 percent of voters that legalized medical marijuana for chronically ill or aching patients. The council is moving quickly to put a regulatory framework in place.

All “qualifying patients,” the bill states, have the right to obtain and use marijuana for medical purposes with a physician's written and signed recommendation. Once the measure is adopted, D.C. will join 14 states that have legalized marijuana for medicinal use.

“This legislation updates Initiative 59 using lessons learned by other states in implementing medical marijuana programs to ensure that the District's medical marijuana program is a model program,” said at-large Councilman David Catania, chairman of the health committee.

The bill directs the mayor to develop a “closed system for the manufacture, distribution and use of medical marijuana,” to include a list of medical conditions that would qualify a person for medical marijuana use, the quantity of pot that constitutes an adequate 30-day supply, and the quantity a dispensary should be able to manufacture.

It caps the number of dispensaries at five — none within 1,000 feet of a school or youth center — and bars felons or individuals with misdemeanor drug convictions from working at or owning one. It requires patients, caregivers and dispensary staff to register with the government, and it allows patients to designate another person to assist in their marijuana use.

Medical marijuana supporters seized on several provisions as wrongheaded. The five-dispensary cap unfairly limits patient access and may create a monopoly, said Chuck Thies, a political consultant who worked on Initiative 59. And the government, he said, should not be so heavily involved in patient care matters.

“Putting more government between patient and physician is contrary to public opinion, the will of the voters who passed the medical marijuana Initiative in 1998 and is clearly not in the best interests of patients,” Thies told The Examiner in an e-mail.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration argues the benefits of medical marijuana are a “myth.” The drug is addictive, the DEA claims, has little medicinal value, weakens the immune system and increases the risk of heart attack.

Council Chairman Vincent Gray said he expects the council to “move with all deliberate speed to get this done.” The bill was referred to the health and judiciary committees.

Medical marijuana bill

»  Requires frequent dispensary inspections.

»  Requires dispensaries to maintain detailed medical records.

»  Requires dispensaries to educate patients about potential harmful drug interactions.


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