Drug Law

Medical Marijuana Coming to Washington DC

| by NORML

Editor's note: This post is excerpted from this week's forthcoming NORML weekly media advisory. To have NORML's media advisories delivered straight to your in-box, sign up for NORML's free e-zine here.]

Members of Congress have declined to overrule legislation passed by the D.C. Council in May authorizing the establishment of regulated medical marijuana dispensaries in the District of Columbia.

Congressional lawmakers had up to 30 working days to reject the law. That review period officially ended Monday evening.

In June, a pair of Republican House members, Reps. Jason Chaffertz (Utah) and Jim Jordan (Ohio) introduced legislation to overturn D.C.’s medical marijuana law, stating, “Marijuana is a psychotropic drug classified under Schedule I of the federal Controlled Substances Act as having ‘high potential for abuse,’ ‘no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States,’ and a ‘lack of accepted safety for use of the drug…under medical supervision.’ While certain of these principles may be open to significant debate within segments of the medical community, and among pro-legalization/decriminalization groups, [we are] opposed to re-classification and decriminalization efforts.”

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Their effort failed to gain any significant support in Congress.

Under the new law, D.C. Health Department officials will oversee the creation of as many as eight facilities to dispense medical cannabis to authorized patients. Medical dispensaries would be limited to growing no more than 95 plants on site at any one time.

Both non-profit and for-profit organizations will be eligible to operate the dispensaries.

Qualifying D.C. patients will be able to obtain medical cannabis at these facilities, but will not be permitted under the law to grow their own medicine.

A separate provision enacted as part of the 2011 D.C. budget calls for the retail sales of medical cannabis to be subject to the District’s six percent sales tax rate. Low-income will be allowed to purchase medical marijuana at a greatly reduced cost under the plan.

It will likely be several months before Health officials begin accepting applications from the public to operate the City’s medical marijuana production and distribution centers.

District lawmakers said that the newly enacted legislation implements key components of Initiative 59 — a 1998 DC ballot measure that garnered 69 percent of the vote. Until this year D.C. city lawmakers had been barred from instituting the measure because of a Congressional ban on the issue. Congress finally lifted the ban in 2009.