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Access To Medical Marijuana Expands For D.C. Patients

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 decision on whether to use medical marijuana in D.C. is now solely between a doctor and their patient.

On July 29, Mayor Vincent Gray quietly signed a bill allowing a doctor to recommend medical marijuana for any condition, not only those listed by the law that created the program.

The program, which was established in 2010 and started serving patients last year, was originally limited to those residents suffering from HIV/AIDS, cancer, glaucoma, and severe spasms. City officials said that a tightly restricted program was needed to avoid abuses by doctors, as well as possible federal intervention.

But critics argued that the short list of qualifying conditions limited access for residents suffering from other conditions that could benefit from medical marijuana, and made it more difficult for dispensaries and cultivation centers to attract enough customers to stay in business. As of July 24, 715 patients had registered to receive medical marijuana, close to double the amount two months prior.

In May, the D.C. Department of Health expanded the list of qualifying conditions, adding decompensated cirrhosis, Lou Gehrig's disease, Cachexia or wasting syndrome, Alzheimer’s Disease, and seizure disorders.

But with Gray's signature on the bill, first introduced by D.C. Council members Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7) and David Grosso (I-At Large) in April, any resident can gain access to medical marijuana if their doctor recommends it.

Even with the changes, D.C. officials say that the program won't soon resemble the much more permissive variety in California. Doctors seeking to recommend medical marijuana still have to prove they have an ongoing relationship with this patient, and are forbidden from operating out of offices in any of the city's dispensaries or cultivation centers. The city's medical marijuana law also allows the Board of Medicine to audit any doctor who recommends the drug more than 250 times in 12 months.

The bill also greatly increases the number of marijuana plants a cultivation center can grow, from 95 to 500. Cultivators argue that more plants will mean they can grow more strains of marijuana, as well as start producing edibles to be sold to patients.

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