“It’s a beautiful natural product that is from rain, sun and soil,” Alonzo said, wearing a dark T-shirt with a green logo of a cannabis leaf over a medical cross. “Mother Nature doesn’t make mistakes.”
Alonzo agreed to share his experiences navigating the District’s medical marijuana system on the condition that he be identified only by his middle name, concerned that public knowledge of his medical marijuana use could prove sensitive at work.
Capital City Care’s sales Monday to two patients represent the culmination of a fight that dates to the mid-1990s, when HIV/AIDS activists first fought to put medical marijuana on the citywide ballot. Nearly 70 percent of voters approved a 1998 legalization initiative, but Congress intervened for more than a decade, preventing the implementation of a medical marijuana program.
After Congress lifted its restrictions in 2009, the District government started a slow process to set up a strict regulatory and licensing regime limited to city residents with specific chronic illnesses, with lawmakers and city officials saying they were moving deliberately to reduce the risk of future federal intervention.
Initial hopes that cannabis could be made available to patients in late 2010 gave way to early 2011 and then mid-2012 as the city moved through the painstaking and politically sensitive process of licensing marijuana growers and retailers, as well as certifying the doctors who would recommend the medicine and patients who would consume it.
Alonzo, who is HIV-positive, said he had been following the rollout of the medical marijuana program since the beginning of the year. The combination of antiviral drugs he takes to manage his infection, Alonzo said, causes him frequent insomnia and occasional difficulty in swallowing and digesting.
Marijuana, he said, was not initially his preferred therapy. “Like many people, I certainly had my fair share in college, but then I really left it alone for a long time,” he said. A mid-1990s trip to Amsterdam with his former partner, who had a more advanced HIV infection, demonstrated how cannabis could help address the virus’s symptoms and the side effects of the drugs used to treat them.
In March, Alonzo approached his doctor about seeking a marijuana recommendation.
“He asked why, and I outlined my challenges,” he said. “I really don’t want to have a prescription drug dependency, and they weren’t working for the insomnia. He was agreeable to it. And then the long wait.”