City lawmakers in Washington, D.C. adopted an emergency ordinance on Tuesday designed to ease access to the medical cannabis program in the nation’s capital by allowing all adults to “self-certify” their eligibility to use medicinal pot. Under the proposal, adults 21 and older would no longer be required to submit a recommendation to use medicinal pot from a health care provider when they apply for a medical cannabis identification card.
Supporters of the measure maintain that the bill will make it simpler for patients to gain access to medical cannabis, particularly for those who have difficulty seeing a doctor. Out of thousands of physicians practicing medicine in Washington, D.C., only 620 are registered to issue medical pot recommendations. In January, the city council passed a similar measure that allowed adults 65 and older to self-certify for medical cannabis card eligibility, but that ordinance expired on May 1.
“This self-certification is urgently needed for consumers and dispensaries alike,” said Councilmember Janeese Lewis George, as quoted by the DCist. “Expanding our patient base is a necessary first step to putting them on an equal playing field.”
Washington, D.C. Dispensaries Face Competition From Illicit Businesses
The emergency ordinance passed on Tuesday was introduced by Councilmembers Kenyan McDuffie and Mary Cheh. Proponents of the bill also hope that it will help regulated medical dispensaries compete with the illicit cannabis economy.
“Due to the lower barriers to access in the gray market, a significant number of medical marijuana patients have shifted from purchasing their medical marijuana from legal medical dispensaries to the illicit gray market, creating a significant risk to the long-term viability of the District’s legal medical marijuana industry,” McDuffie and Cheh said in a statement accompanying the emergency bill. “If this trend continues, it is possible that gray market sales could wipe out the District’s legal marijuana dispensaries.
Cheh and McDuffie went on to state that given the “benefits that regulated and safe legal dispensaries provide to medical marijuana users in the District, it is vital that the industry survive until the District can stand up a regulated recreational market and transition toward full regulation of recreational marijuana products.”
The council members noted that Washington, D.C.’s permitted medical marijuana dispensaries face stiff competition from the city’s gray market for cannabis, which takes advantage of recreational cannabis decriminalization loopholes to operate with virtual impunity. One popular scheme features businesses who sell cheap merchandise at hyper-inflated prices and include what is ostensibly a gift of cannabis with the purchase.
“Savvy business owners have pushed the legal limits on the gifting industry,” McDuffie said ahead of the vote. “I’ve had medical dispensaries that have reached out to me and my staff and say that if we don’t pass this measure, it could put their businesses into jeopardy.”
Although possession of cannabis has been legalized since the passage of a 2014 ballot measure, the federal government has blocked implementation of the law that would allow for the opening of recreational pot retailers. At Tuesday’s meeting, Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said that he would still like to see additional legislation that targets Washington D.C.’s cannabis gifting shops, noting that the business will be vital infrastructure for a potential legalized adult-use cannabis market.
“It’s not an equal playing field and will never be as long as there are illegal cannabis gifting shops,” he said. “As long as there are these businesses, the legal industry won’t be there to step in [when legalization happens].”
The city council passed the ordinance by a unanimous vote at its meeting on Tuesday. The bill is now headed to the office of Mayor Muriel Bowser for her consideration. In a letter sent to the council on Tuesday, Bowser said that she is in favor of the legislation, according to media reports.
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