Medical marijuana may become legal in District

A D.C. councilmember introduced a bill last Tuesday that would open five medical marijuana dispensaries in the District.

Councilmember David Catania, I-At Large, introduced the bill, which would implement a 1998 D.C. initiative that called for legalizing medical marijuana. The bill, Initiative 59, was approved by 69 percent of voters, but was prevented from being passed by restrictions from the predominantly Republican Congress, the Washington Post reported.

The proposed dispensaries would be able to distribute approximately one month’s supply of marijuana to chronically ill patients. None of the marijuana distributed would be cost-free, but low-income families would be given a discount.

Susan Mottet, committee counsel for Catania, said the bill requires that dispensaries would be allowed to grow or possess only enough marijuana to provide registered or projected new patients with an adequate medical supply.

“It is going to be very tightly controlled. The Department of Health will be doing frequent health inspections to ensure they’re not growing more than they’re expected to. It should be tightly regulated enough so that there is not fraud and abuse,” Mottet said, adding that there would still be enough so qualified patients would still be able to get an adequate medical supply.

Catania’s proposal grants the Department of Health and the Mayor’s office the authority to determine the various restrictions on distributing medical marijuana and regulations on the dispensaries themselves. According to the Post, the Department of Health will formulate a list describing the specific illnesses and conditions one must possess to be prescribed medical marijuana.

“People seek out medical marijuana more for the purposes of easing the symptoms and being able to proceed with a normal life while incurring the pains and struggles of serious, usually chronic illnesses,” said Jon Gabor, a former employee of Los Angeles Medical Marijuana Collective.

The proposed dispensaries would likely not be located near GW, Mottet said.

“We capped the number of clinics at five, and we said that they can’t be located within 1,000 feet of a school. School probably means a university, so they are not going to be right next door. There are only five, so I don’t think a campus will be surrounded,” Mottet said.

Mottet added she thought universities would probably have to permit students to use medical marijuana if they were granted permission by the government.

“I would imagine universities would allow students to also [smoke medical marijuana] on campus somewhere because laws and policies can’t say you can use some medications and not other medications. At the same time, they are going to be wary about allowing students to smoke marijuana in a dorm room with a roommate,” Mottet said. “I imagine they will have to revisit their policies that relate to that. They would probably require that any student that uses medical marijuana on campus would need to show the school their registration card so that the school can know ahead of time who is authorized or not. I don’t think it would inspire any school to say, ‘Anyone can smoke marijuana.’ “

According to the legislature, the marijuana would be grown somewhere in D.C. to avoid border problems with Maryland and Virginia, two states which have not legalized medical marijuana.

Senior Josh Phillips, who spent three months of his summer in San Francisco where medical marijuana was legalized in 1996, said he doesn’t think there would be a change in the amount of marijuana on campus if the bill passed.

“I don’t think [there will be changes]. I think the biggest thing from California that I observed from public officials is the change in stigma more than actually cracking down,” Phillips said. “Legalizing it would just change the perceptions people have as marijuana as a medicine, as a drug, and I think the same is going to happen at the University if they change the laws in D.C.”

Fourteen states have already legalized medical marijuana.

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