If you’re a medical marijuana patient in Washington D.C., you may never be too broke to buy cannabis again, starting next year.
The District of Columbia, with one of the highest poverty levels in the country, has become the first place to pass a law discounting medical marijuana for low-income patients.
“The D.C. proposal to subsidize the cost of medical marijuana for low income patients is especially appropriate, and something that the other medical use states should consider,” said Keith Stroup, legal counsel for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).
“With the cost of medical marijuana anywhere from $200 to $600 per ounce (and even higher at some dispensaries in California), there are many patients who simply cannot afford their medicine,” Stroup told Toke of the Town Thursday afternoon.
|Photo: NORML Stash|
|Keith Stroup, NORML: “Medicine cannot be limited only to the affluent”|
”In most other states, patients who cannot afford to buy their medical marijuana are allowed to legally grown their own,” Stroup told us. “Since the D.C. proposal does not permit patient cultivation, it is especially important that we subsidize the cost for low income patients.”
“Medicine cannot be limited only to the affluent,” Stroup said.
Legislative analyst Dan Riffle of the Marijuana Policy Project said that while D.C.’s medical marijuana law left a lot to be desired, the sliding scale for patients is a welcome innovation.
“The D.C. Council, in amending Initiative 59, made a few undemocratic moves that turned this into an unduly restrictive law,” Riffle told Toke of the Town Thursday afternoon. “Chief among those amendments were removing the broad qualifying conditions language in favor of a short list, and taking away the ability of patients to cultivate their own medicine.”
“Fortunately, making medicine available to patients in the District on fixed or low incomes was one area where the Council stayed true to Initiative 59’s honorable intentions,” Riffle told us.
|Dan Riffle, MPP: “Fortunately, making medicine available to patients in the District on low or fixed incomes was one area where the Council stayed true to Initiative 59’s honorable intentions”|
”The medical marijuana movement has always been about making potentially lifesaving medicine available to those who need it, and by calling for dispensaries and government regulators to make marijuana available at little or no cost to low-income patients, the District’s law will go a long way toward accomplishing that goal,” Riffle said.
“We are pleased that the District Council is considering the plight of low-income patients by providing a sliding scale for registration fees and cost of medication,” said Kris Hermes, media specialist with Americans for Safe Access (ASA).
“Since this was not part of the original initiative, it represents a sincere effort to address onerous fees and the typically high cost of medical marijuana,” Hermes told Toke of the Town Thursday afternoon.
|Kris Hermes, ASA: “…it represents a sincere effort to address onerous fees and the typically high cost of medical marijuana”|
”Having said that, the original D.C. initiative mandated that distribution facilities operate in a not-for-profit capacity, going so far as to say ‘Such corporations shall comply with the District’s nonprofit corporation laws.’ And yet, the District Council ignored this requirement and decided that a sliding scale would be sufficient to control profit motive. Indeed, the latest proposed regulations allow for profit-making distribution facilities,” Hermes told us.
“To the frustration of patients, the process of developing the regs has been less than inclusive,” Hermes said. “Despite testimony before the District Council by the Department of Health, committing to working with the patient community, several amendments and requests for meetings have been ignored by key public officials.”
In addition to keeping dispensaries nonprofit, one of the requested amendments ignored by the District Council was to allow patient cultivation in the regulations, according to Hermes — a right afforded to patients in every state except New Jersey with a medical marijuana program.
“Allowing patients to cultivate their own medication is an important way to cut costs,” Hermes told us. “By growing themselves, patients can have direct access to a known, cheap, and consistent supply of quality medicine that works for their specific health condition.”
According to Hermes, patients are urging that the Department of Health be used as the agency responsible for fully implementing D.C.’s law, not the Alcohol & Beverage Control Board.
Patients are calling for greater involvement in oversight and implementation by urging the District Council to appoint qualified patients to the oversight committee, Hermes said.
Fourteen states, as well as the District of Columbia, have laws legalizing marijuana for medicinal use, but none of them have mandated discounts.
Who, exactly, will be qualified to get the dank discount is still undetermined, reports Jessica Gresko of The Associated Press.
“Obviously because there’s no roadmap on how to do this, it may require some tweaking over time,” said David Catania, the D.C. councilman who chairs the city health committee that drafted the law.
“We may, in fact, set an example for other states,” Catania said.