The D.C. Council unanimously approved a bill today to allow chronically ill patients to receive a doctor's prescription to use marijuana and buy it from a city-sanctioned distribution center.
Under the bill, which passed without debate, a patient who suffers from HIV, glaucoma, cancer or a "chronic and lasting disease" may receive a doctor's recommendation to possess up to two ounces of marijuana in a 30-day period.
The patient would not be allowed to grow their own marijuana, but between five and eight pot distribution centers would be established in the city.
Those distribution centers would receive marijuana from privately run cultivation centers, where up to 95 marijuana plants could be grown at a given time. The distribution and cultivation centers, which could not be located within 300 feet of a school or preschool, would be operated by private or nonprofit organizations and businesses that would be licensed by the city.
The bill is expected to easily pass the council today, perhaps by a unanimous vote. The council will then have to vote on it a second time next month. But it will likely be at least several months before the city's medical marijuana program gets off the ground.
Under the legislation, the mayor's office and the Department of Health will have to draft regulations on where the distribution centers can be located and under what terms. It remains unclear what criteria the mayor would use when selecting what companies or nonprofits will win the right to enter the city's potentially lucrative marijuana market. But city officials say they have learned lessons from other states with less controlled medical marijuana programs.
Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D), a Democratic candidate for mayor, said Monday he hopes the city moves swiftly to implement the medical marijuana law. He noted District voters overwhelmingly approved a referendum in 1998 to legalize medical marijuana, but Congress blocked the city from moving forward on the issue until this year.
"This is not a new issue," Gray said. "It's been around 10 years. We had an overwhelmingly large number of people support this. ... I would hope we could move this quickly and implement something a majority of people said they supported."
This post has been updated since it was first published.
-- Tim Craig