City officials expect patients to have access to medicinal marijuana — which advocates say can relieve pain and stimulate the appetite — by May 2012.
“This is a very complicated process,” said D.C. Health Director Mohammad N. Akhter. “The community should be very pleased that we are moving forward with this and are doing things in a way that will make sure the program will be here to stay.”
Still, some people are skeptical. District officials have already missed a launch goal set when the law went into effect July 27, 2010.
“I don’t believe they’re going to be ready to deliver” by May, said Nancy Miranda, 37, a Columbia Heights resident who said she wants to use prescription marijuana for her migraine headaches. “If they do, they’ll surprise me and, of course, make me very happy.”
Akhter said recent changes in the program — including the decision by Mayor Vincent Gray (D) in April to have the Health Department run the application process — caused some delays.
“Once you move something like this, you need to do new rules and regulations and it needs to go to the council,” Akhter said. “Considering all of those things, it has moved very expeditiously.”
Akhter would not identify the approved applicants — they are scheduled to be announced Friday — but he expects candidates to file proposals by Sept. 9. A six-member panel — a patient advocate and representatives from five city departments — will review the proposals with commissioners of affected Advisory Neighborhood Commissions over three months, he said.
Akhter said that he expects license awardees to be named by year’s end and that marijuana should be ready to be dispensed by next May. “When this program gets implemented, it’s going to be the tightest-controlled program in the United States,” he said.
Still, some possible participants — such as Nikolas Schiller — consider the city’s pace “glacial.” Schiller’s group, D.C. Patients’ Cooperative, identified potential cultivation and dispensary sites in the city after the law passed.
Concerned about the program’s pace, the cooperative did not sign any leases, and many of those sites are no longer available. Schiller, the only paid staff member, was laid off by the group’s investors.
Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) said that although he wants the process to move quickly, he appreciates the city’s deliberate approach, even as some community activists have become “impatient.”