D.C. Council bill proposes up to 5 medical marijuana dispensaries

By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 19, 2010; 1:28 PM

The District would have up to five medical marijuana dispensaries where seriously ill patients could go to obtain the drug from a licensed vendor under a bill proposed Tuesday by D.C. Council member David A. Catania.

Catania's proposal, which was co-sponsored by nine of 13 council members, is designed to implement a 1998 voter-approved initiative that called for the legalization of medical marijuana in the District.

After Initiative 59 was approved with 69 percent of the vote, the then-GOP-controlled Congress blocked it from being implemented. But the Democratic-controlled Congress removed those restrictions last month.

Under Catania's proposal, the District would have what he calls "a closed system to regulate the cultivation, distribution and possession of marijuana."

"What I wanted to make sure we don't do is take something that is evidence-based and scientifically proven for medicine and turn that into a system where there is an opportunity for mischief," said Catania (I-At Large).

The legislation, which has been referred to both the Health and Public Safety and Judiciary committees, would allow the dispensaries to distribute up to a month's supply of marijuana to either to patients or their registered caregivers. Although patients would have to pay for the drug, the legislation requires providers to supply low-income patients with marijuana at a reduced price.

Once implemented, the District would be the 15th location in the nation to permit medical marijuana. On Monday, his last day in office, New Jersey Gov. Jon S. Corzine signed the law legalizing medical marijuana in that state.

"We have seen an increasing number of states that have moved in the direction of permitting medical marijuana, so we are moving forward," said council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), chairman of the Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary.

Catania's measure calls for the mayor's office and the Department of Health to set most of the regulations for how the city's medical marijuana policy would work. The Health Department, for example, will have to establish a list of medical conditions that can qualify a patient for a doctor's prescription to obtain the drug.

The administration would also be charged with determining what companies get licensed to grow and distribute the marijuana. One unanswered question is where the marijuana would be grown.

Catania said it would most likely have to be grown somewhere in the District to avoid local drug laws in neighboring Maryland and Virginia.

Catania's amendment states a dispensary cannot be located within 1,000 feet of a school or youth center. It also prohibits felons and individuals with drug convictions from owning or working in a dispensary.

"Moving forward, this legislation will enable the District to implement an effective and responsible medical marijuana program that will be a model for other states," Catania said.

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