D.C. medical marijuana: Is it worth the price?


David Guard, general manager of Capital City Care, verifies the identity of “Alonzo” before allowing him to buy medical marijuana Monday. (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)

On Monday evening, a 51-year-old HIV-positive Northwest resident purchased about a half-ounce of cannabis from the Capital City Care dispensary, becoming the first District resident to legally purchase medical marijuana under the long-awaited city program.

The patient, whose middle name is Alonzo and who declined to be identified further for professional reasons, thus became a part of history and part of an ongoing political debate about marijuana laws in America.

But did he get a good deal on his weed?

For his sampling of the Jack Herer, Blue Dream and Master Kush strains, Alonzo paid about $250. Capital City Care currently offers four strains for between $380 and $440 per ounce, plus 6 percent city sales tax. It costs more by weight to purchase smaller amounts, but discounts are available for seniors, veterans and patients who are certified as low-income by the city.

People I’ve spoken to have seemed somewhat surprised at those prices, and have raised the question of whether potential patients will consider it worth the time and hassle to get a D.C. medical marijuana card for the right to pay sky-high cannabis prices.

But then again, these are people who are mostly unfamiliar with the street price of marijuana in the District. There are indications that Capital City Care’s prices are competitive with street prices.

PriceOfWeed.com, a crowdsourced marijuana price directory, pegs the current average price of high-quality marijuana in the District at $368 per ounce. And a friend of District of DeBonis who is familiar with these matters and was granted anonymity for obvious reasons said the dispensary’s prices are “not crazy” for quality marijuana, with $60 for a quarter-ounce eighth-ounce being “pretty standard” on the street. (Eighths of Capital City Care’s current strains range from $58 to $70.)

Scott Morgan, a spokesman for the dispensary, said Capital City Care is offering fair prices for a legal, high-quality product and one produced and distributed under a highly regulated government regime. “The street price is a separate issue,” he said. “We’re here to help patients.” But he acknowledged Capital City Care has to be competitive with both other dispensaries and with the street to make its business sustainable.

As you see, much of the value proposition depends on quality. So is Capital City Care dispensing qualify medicine? For that, we turn back to Alonzo. After two days of use, he said, he is “definitely pleased.”

“It’s been very good,” he said Wednesday. “I figured out how to use my vaporizer and had a nice walk with my dog last night. … I slept beautifully.”

In a brief mid-medication interview Monday night, his description was more vivid: “It’s like someone’s inside me doing a gentle massage outward.”

Alonzo said Capital City Care’s product did seem pricier than street marijuana, but while he says he’d “like to see something more affordable,” the legal and regulated nature of the endeavor was worth extra: “You don’t really know exactly what you’re getting on the street, and there’s also the risk of people taking your money and not giving you anything, period.”

The quality of the legal stuff, he said, was self-evident: “I basically did a smell test. … It was like a blueberry sour ball. The smell in itself had psychoactive qualities, it seems like, compared to the stuff I’ve gotten in the past.”

Mike DeBonis covers local politics and government for The Washington Post. He also writes a blog and a political analysis column that runs on Fridays.
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Mike DeBonis | July 31, 2013