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Amid Obama's War On Pot, DC Kicks Off Medical Marijuana Program

Medical marijuana is about to become a reality in the shadow of Congress and the White House, but advocates worry patients may be left in the lurch.
 
 
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Medical marijuana patients in the nation's capital are on step closer to being able to get access to their medicine after the Washington, DC, Health Department announced Friday it had selected the winning bidders for six grow operations designed to supply the city's proposed dispensaries, which the city hopes to approve this summer. 

The move comes nearly 15 years after DC voters approved medical marijuana in a 1998 initiative vote. Congress blocked the city from implementing the will of the voters until 2009, and an extremely cautious DC city government has taken the past two years to arrive at a medical marijuana supply system it can live with.

Under the DC system, up to 10 medical marijuana grows, or cultivation centers, which can each grow up to 95 plants, could be permitted, although only six were selected Friday. They will provide medical marijuana to up to eight dispensaries. Under the DC system, patients cannot grow their own medicine and even face criminal charges if they possess marijuana that didn't come from a dispensary.

The cultivation centers still must apply for and obtain business licenses and building permits, but can start growing once they've cleared those bureaucratic hurdles. Given that it takes at least three months to produce a crop, the city will likely see its first harvest by July. Dispensaries are set to be selected in June.

How the Obama administration will react to a government-sanctioned medical marijuana production system in the nation's capitol remains to be seen. The Obama Justice Department has in the past year taken an increasingly hard line against large-scale medical marijuana production and sales in other states.

Medical marijuana supporters reacted with a mixture of applause for local officials and misgivings about what could lie ahead from the federal government.

"This is a major step for patients that could benefit from this program toward finally finding relief. Congress and the DC government have been delaying implementation since 1998, and it is good to see that patients will soon have access to their medicine," said Dan Riffle, legislative analyst for the  Marijuana Policy Project. "The medical marijuana program established in the District is a model of safety and effectiveness. Mayor Vincent Gray should be congratulated for listening to his constituents and serving the seriously ill patients of the District."

"The mayor and council should be commended for moving forward with DC’s medical marijuana program, even though the Obama administration has declared open season on medical patients and providers," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the  Drug Policy Alliance. "Medical marijuana will soon be growing just blocks from the White House and Congress – opponents of a compassionate marijuana policy need to realize that they’re on the losing side of history."

But advocates worry that if the Obama administration moves against the city's cultivation centers and dispensaries, patients will be left in the lurch. Some are calling on the city to allow patients to grow their own.

"Given the Obama administration’s ongoing war on medical marijuana dispensaries, it is irresponsible of the DC Council not to allow patients to grown their own – and it’s outright cruel to subject them to jail time for obtaining their medicine from whatever source they can," said Piper. "The DC Council should pass emergency legislation providing for a back-up plan in case the federal government shuts down local dispensaries."

Still, medical marijuana is about to become a reality in the shadow of Congress and the White House.

 
Washington, DC

United States

Phillip Smith is an editor at DRCNet.