D.C. Council To Vote On Medical Marijuana Law Next Week


Photo: Koehler Law

​As the D.C. Council prepares to approve and enact amendments to a medical marijuana law first passed in 1998 by 69 percent of District of Columbia voters, advocates for sensible and compassionate medical cannabis programs remain concerned with several components of the current proposal.

“In crafting this legislation, the Council has been responsive to many concerns raised by the community, so we thank and congratulate them for their work thus far,” said Dan Riffle, a legislative analyst with the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). “Still, a few amendments are needed in order to create a medical marijuana program that reflects the will of District voters.”

Photo: MPP
Dan Riffle, MPP: “A few amendments are needed in order to create a medical marijuana program that reflects the will of District voters”

​”By adding these proposed amendments, the District would implement one of the best medical marijuana laws in the country, balancing the needs of patients with the safeguards necessary to prevent abuse,” Riffle said.
MPP said the District’s law would be greatly improved by the following changes:
• Remove the language prohibiting patients from using marijuana or paraphernalia not obtained from a licensed dispensary. The law should not criminalize use of items patients might already own, nor should it criminalize patients for using medicine not obtained at a dispensary, since it could take several months for dispensaries to begin distribution.
• Remove the limitation to home consumption in favor of a simple public smoking ban. “Obviously, no one should be permitted to use marijuana in the workplace or undertake sensitive or dangerous tasks while under the influence,” Riffle said. “But those who take Oxycontin, Ambien, or any number of more dangerous drugs are allowed to do so at a friend, relative, or caregiver’s home, and there’s no legitimate reason to saddle medical marijuana patients with more onerous restrictions.”
• Include severe, chronic pain as a qualifying condition for patients. Thirteen out of the 14 current medical marijuana states include chronic pain among qualifying conditions. Given the strong scientific consensus in support of marijuana’s efficacy in pain relief, this legislation cannot be truly evidence-based if it criminalizes patients seeking relief from debilitating pain.
• Do not limit cultivation centers to 95 plants. “Such a low cap could make operating a cultivation center impracticable, drive up the cost of medical marijuana, and likely result in an inadequate supply, as has been the case in New Mexico, which has an identical restriction,” Riffle said.
• Increase possession/purchasing limits. Two ounces per month will not be enough medicine for some patients with chronic conditions, or those who choose to ingest medical marijuana through edible means such as baked goods. It is less than one fourth the amount of marijuana the federal government sends four patients each month pursuant to a program that is closed to new patients.
• Include home cultivation. Nearly 70 percent of District voters approved Initiative 59, which included home cultivation. “Allowing patients to cultivate their own medicine would not only respect the democratic process, but would help alleviate pressure on the program to produce enough supply to meet patient demand,” Riffle said. All but one of the 14 medical marijuana states allow patient cultivation (New Jersey is the lone exception).