Major improvements to medical marijuana program begin to take effect


Last update: March 15, 2017


In November 2016, the D.C. Council passed a bill, B21-210, that makes important improvements to the medical marijuana program. It took effect in February 2017 after the required period of Congressional review.

The law now requires independent laboratory testing of medical marijuana, which is important for patient safety and is already required in many other states. The cap on the number of plants a cultivation center can grow has now been increased to 1,000. Attempts to eliminate the arbitrary and unnecessary cap unfortunately were defeated; New Mexico is the only other state that limits the number of plants that can be grown by a licensed business.

The law also allows more people to work in the medical marijuana industry. A misdemeanor drug conviction or a conviction for possession with intent to distribute marijuana will no longer be a bar to participation. Because African Americans were disproportionally likely to be prosecuted for marijuana crimes, comprising 50% of the population but 91% of those arrested in D.C., this is a great victory for equity and inclusion in the industry.

In addition, once a District-wide electronic tracking system is put into place to track patients’ purchases, patients will be able to visit any of D.C.’s five dispensaries, rather than being limited to just one. Patients who are registered with other states’ programs will be able to shop at D.C.’s dispensaries, which is especially important given how many people visit D.C. every year. Unfortunately, it will be some time before the necessary steps can be taken for that provision to take effect.

For more information about the medical marijuana program, you can visit the District Department of Health’s medical marijuana program website.

Congress continues blocking sensible regulation in D.C.


In November 2014, D.C. voters overwhelmingly approved Initiative 71, which legalized the possession and cultivation of limited amounts of marijuana by adults who are 21 and older. It made no provision for non-medical sales, which are still a crime, and does not apply on federal property, including the national Mall and Interstate 295. For those under 21, it left in place the decriminalization law, which imposes a $25 civil fine.

Councilmembers David Grosso, Brianne Nadeau, and Robert White have sponsored legislation to create the regulatory framework necessary for a responsible marijuana industry. The “Marijuana Legalization and Regulation Act of 2017,” B22-0030, would allow the city to register and regulate marijuana cultivators, product manufacturers, retail stores, and testing labs and to impose taxes on the sale of marijuana to adults 21 and older. It would also allow for the social use of cannabis in licensed, regulated businesses.

Unfortunately, Congress has included a provision in an appropriations bill that blocks the District from spending any money — even its own funds — to “enact” a law that would reduce penalties associated with the use, possession, or sale of marijuana. Congress has passed a “continuing resolution” extending the existing budget through late April 2017, thus keeping this provision in place.

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