D.C. Council bills could complicate medical marijuana program


Montel Williams’s D.C. marijuana hopes could be imperiled by Barry’s bill. (Mnanuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press)

Orange got a big boost Friday, with Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown (D) signing on to co-introduce the bill, signaling his support for the measure. Brown also agreed to schedule a meeting next Tuesday to take up the bill.

The council might also vote on a proposal by Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) to disallow medical marijuana firms from holding more than one license. Several firms have applied for multiple cultivation center licenses, which would allow them to grow more plants and make their operations more financially viable.

Together, the bills represent a real threat to getting the city’s medical marijuana industry up and running anytime soon.

Orange’s bill could severely restrict the number of cultivation centers that can open, which currently need to be placed in industrial zones which are largely located in Ward 5, to say nothing of the fact that it would threaten real-estate arrangements that have been months in the making for marijuana entrepreneurs.

Combined with Barry’s bill, the effect could be even more dramatic. If a single cultivation center is allowed to hold multiple licenses, it might alleviate the oversaturation problem, allowing more plants to be grown at a given site. But if both the Barry and Orange bills pass, it could be tough to grow a sufficient number of plants to support the program. And the Barry bill could also affect whether some companies find it worthwhile to proceed with their applications — to say nothing of what would happen if the already delayed application process needs to be restarted, which is a possibility.

Barry’s notice says his bill is needed because “Of the seven licenses awarded, two businesses have been awarded two licenses each.” That is incorrect — the Department of Health has not awarded licenses, but has allowed those applicants to move forward in the licensing process.

An interesting aside: Among those who would be affected by Barry’s bill is the client of his longtime attorney, Frederick D. Cooke Jr. He represents Abatin Wellness Center, the Montel Williams-affiliated outfit that is seeking two cultivation licenses.

Reached Friday, Cooke said he had not been apprised of Barry’s proposal.

”It would obviously affect the economics of any of the propositions,” he said, noting that well-intentioned council members “don’t always think these things through.”

But will it pass? “I have no idea if it has any legs or not,” he said. Both bills are presented as emergency legislation, which need eight of 12 votes to proceed.

What might make a difference is if Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) or his health director, Mohammed N. Akhter, weigh in on the bill. No word yet from the Gray camp on whether Hizzoner has a position.

Mike DeBonis covers Congress and national politics for The Washington Post. He previously covered D.C. politics and government from 2007 to 2015.

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