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D.C. Adds Six New Qualifying Conditions For Medical Marijuana

A small sample of medical marijuana available at Capital City Care, D.C.'s first legal dispensary.
Capital City Care
A small sample of medical marijuana available at Capital City Care, D.C.'s first legal dispensary.

The D.C. Department of Health is adding new six qualifying conditions to the list of conditions that allows residents to obtain medical marijuana.

According to rules that took effect today, the department is adding decompensated cirrhosis, Lou Gehrig's disease, Cachexia or wasting syndrome, Alzheimer’s Disease, and seizure disorders to the list of qualifying conditions. Medical marijuana is currently limited to residents with HIV/AIDS, glaucoma, cancer, or severe muscle spasms.

Under the new rules, hospice patients with less than six months to live will also be eligible for medical marijuana. Current rules also allow residents undergoing chemotherapy or radiotherapy, and those using protease inhibitors, to use medical marijuana.

The change represents a loosening up of what has been one of the country's most restrictive medical marijuana programs. In the year since medical marijuana became available, 334 patients have registered with the department to receive medical marijuana, less than the 800 that D.C. officials initially estimated. (Of those registered, 47 percent suffer from muscle spasms, 30 percent from HIV/AIDS and 14 percent from cancer.)

Advocates complained that the short list of conditions overlooked patients suffering from other diseases that would benefit from medical marijuana, as well as financially hampering the cultivators and dispensers responsible for growing and selling the marijuana.

In April, a bill was introduced in the D.C. Council to scrap the list of qualifying conditions altogether and allow doctors to make the final call on whether or not marijuana could be used. (A hearing on that bill is set for June.) The month prior, the department had outlined a process to allow residents to petition for the addition of more conditions.

According to the department, an advisory committee submitted a report in April suggesting that the conditions be added. The rules state that the list has been expanded to allow more patients to benefit: "This emergency action is being taken in order to enable the District to expeditiously meet the needs of those individuals who are suffering from serious medical conditions for which, based on their physician’s recommendation, the use of medical marijuana may be beneficial."

D.C. residents voted to legalize medical marijuana in 1998, but Congress intervened and prohibited implementation of the program until 2009. In 2010, the D.C. Council passed a bill creating the medical marijuana program, and the Department of Health crafted restrictive rules limiting the availability of medical marijuana.

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