D.C. may make its medical marijuana program more accessible

The D.C. Council is currently reviewing the Medical Marijuana Improvement Act (the “Act”); a bill introduced in September 2017 that, if passed, would completely reform the District’s medical marijuana program.

The Act would dramatically increase District residents’ access to medical marijuana by removing waiting periods and allowing same-day registration. The current application process for a qualifying patient seeking medical marijuana is expensive, requires a recommendation from a medical practitioner, and the application can take a significant amount to be processed. If the Council were to pass the Act, a qualifying patient would be able to use his or her application as proof of registration, allowing the patient to obtain medical marijuana while the issuance of an identification card is pending.

The Act would also allow immediate access for a patient who may not have the resources to obtain a recommendation from a medical practitioner. The patient would be permitted to self-certify that he or she has a medical condition which qualifies him or her to receive medical marijuana. To self-certify, a patient must provide a government issued photo ID, and a signed affidavit attesting that he or she is at least 21 years old, the use of marijuana is for medical purposes, and he or she is aware of the federal and local laws regarding marijuana.

With more patients comes more demand. To meet this demand, the Act would also allow cultivation centers to grow more than the current 1,000 plant limit; and allow a licensee to open a second cultivation center to expand production.

The Act would also create “safe-use treatment facilities”, where a patient may consume medical marijuana on site. Under this provision, all currently licensed dispensaries would be allowed to operate up to two treatment facilities. The safe-use facilities would not need to be located adjacent to a dispensary; however, no two facilities may be located within 3,000 feet of each other, and no ward may have more than four facilities.

Lastly, the Act would narrow the current prohibition on medical marijuana licensees, directors, and employees who have felony records. The current law bars anyone with a felony – other than those with a felony solely for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute prior to 2014 – from owning or working at a dispensary, cultivation center, or testing laboratory. The Act would only bar those who have been convicted of a felony within the past five years.
A public hearing was held in November 2017, and in March 2018 the Act passed out of the Committee on Health. The Act now awaits review by the Council, the Mayor and ultimately Congress, before it becomes law.

By: John McGowan, Meredith Kinner and Andrew Gargano