New D.C. Medical Marijuana Rules Highlight Federal Prosecution


Photo: Cafe Vale Tudo

​Applicants for the District of Columbia’s medical marijuana program are now required to state in writing that they assume the risk of federal prosecution for growing or distributing cannabis, and that they cannot hold the city liable for arrests, according to newly revised rules.

The rules for the long-awaited program, published on Friday, for the first time pointedly mention federal prosecution because a Department of Justice memo from June says the federal government still considers marijuana a controlled substance, reports Tom Howell Jr. at The Washington Times.

The memo also suggests federal prosecutors may not “look the other way” regarding medical marijuana programs which are legal under local and state laws.
The previous set of D.C. medical marijuana rules were set in April, before the DOJ memo was released. The memo supposedly did not change federal policy; it just “clarified” the federal government’s position from 2009 and put local governments on notice.

Photo: Northern WI NORML

​To make sure medical marijuana applicants are aware of the conflict with federal law, the new city rules also require them to “specifically recite verbatim” subsections releasing the District of Columbia from liability for incidents such as theft and fire.
A section titled “Federal Prosecution” reminds applicants that Congress considers marijuana to be a Schedule I drug, with no accepted medical uses and a “high potential for abuse.”
“Growing, distributing, and possessing marijuana in any capacity, other than as a part of a federally authorized research program, is a violation of federal laws,” the D.C. rules advise medical marijuana applicants. “The District of Columbia’s law authorizing the District’s medical-marijuana program will not excuse any registrant from any violation of the federal laws governing marijuana or authorize any registrant to violate federal laws.”
The decision to add the “bright-line” language was a “group effort” on the part of the D.C. Department of Health and other city agencies involved in the rule making, according to Mahlori Isaacs, spokeswoman for the health department.
References to federal laws were already in the previous rules; now they “have been brought to the forefront,” Isaacs said.
Asked whether there was a meeting or direct advice from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Issacs said, “Not that I know of.”
The Health Department began accepting applications today (Monday, August 15) from qualified entrepreneurs and nonprofits interested in operating cannabis cultivation centers in the District. The agency is expected to accept dispensary applications later this year, after it has culled the cultivation applications.
The agency earlier this year received 170 letters of intent from more than 80 entities interested in applying for a cultivation site, a dispensary or both. They are competing for just 15 spots — 10 cultivation centers and five dispensaries.
The process attracted applicants from several states, although a majority listed an address within the District.
One applicant, lawyer Montgomery Blair Sibley, called it “extraordinary” that the federal government can “come in and take you to jail” when you’re operating legally under local law.
“I filed a federal lawsuit on this very point,” said Sibley, best known as the attorney for the “D.C. Madam,” the Deborah Jeane Palfrey, in 2007.
Activists argue that the District of Columbia needs to fully implement the program — first approved by 69 percent of District voters back in 1998 — and to establish legal protections for patients. Qualified patients are suffering while the city works to set up the program, blocked for 11years by the Congress via the Barr Amendment, which was finally lifted in 2009.