D.C. Medical Marijuana Program Clears Hurdle As Dispensary, Cultivation Site Get Certificate Of Occupancy

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 7:  Marijuana plants grow at Perennial Holistic Wellness Center, a not-for-profit medical marijua
LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 7: Marijuana plants grow at Perennial Holistic Wellness Center, a not-for-profit medical marijuana dispensary in operation since 2006, on September 7, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. A group of activists have submitted about 50,000 signatures in an effort to force a referendum on a marijuana dispensary ban in Los Angeles to take effect next week. A minimum of 27,425 valid signatures from registered voters is needed to let voters decide on the issue in March, and until the number can be verified, the ban will not be enforced. . The ban would not prevent patients or cooperatives of two or three people to grow their own in small amounts. Californians voted to legalize medical cannabis use in 1996, clashing with federal drug laws. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON -- It's been a long, long wait for medical marijuana in the nation's capital. Fourteen years after District of Columbia voters approved a referendum authorizing medical cannabis, no patients have yet obtained access to marijuana through D.C.'s program.

The bulk of the delays can be pinned on Congress, which for years blocked funding to implement a medical marijuana program authorized by the local referendum. But after that appropriations obstacle was removed in 2009, D.C. officials began a three-year regulatory process to design and implement the program.

That will change early next year, as a torturous three-year-long regulatory process comes to an end and licensed cultivation centers and dispensaries finally open their doors to patients, potentially as early as February. Advocates of the program have certainly heard these promises before, but this time it seems more like a reality—the city's first cultivation center (of six licensed earlier this year) was granted its certificate of occupancy yesterday, and various dispensaries are waiting final approvals from city officials.

D.C. Councilmember David Catania (I-At-Large), who introduced implementation legislation in 2010, said in a statement released Thursday:

"Yesterday's issuance of the certificates of occupancy put us, at long last, at the threshold of an operational medical marijuana infrastructure in the District. Individuals suffering from painful, chronic and life threatening diseases will soon be able to access the medication they need right here in the District. While the process has taken longer than anyone would have liked, I am pleased that we now appear to be only a few short months from the existence of a responsible, well-regulated medical marijuana program. I am proud to have championed the effort and look forward to the day that individuals enduring pain and suffering every day will be able to obtain the effective treatment they require."

According to the Washington Business Journal, D.C.'s first cultivation center will be located at 1840 Fenwick Street NE in the Ivy City neighborhood. The first dispensary will be located at 1334-1336 North Capitol St. NW, in the Truxton Circle neighborhood, roughly 13 blocks north of the U.S. Capitol.

Only 110 D.C. physicians have expressed interest in participating in the medical marijuana program, so, as DCist reports, "[i]f a patient's doctor isn't on that list, they'll have to find one that is—and develop an ongoing relationship with them."

There are still plenty of hurdles for other dispensary and cultivation center applicants, including a law approved by the D.C. Council that limits the number of cultivation centers located in Ward 5, where most of the land zoned for cultivation centers is located.



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