The D.C. Council approved emergency legislation Tuesday to restrict the number of medical marijuana cultivation centers that can be opened in any one ward, a proposal aimed at alleviating concerns in Northeast that it could have more “pot shops” than other neighborhoods.


Council member David Catania

As part of a last-minute compromise on the dais between council members Vincent B. Orange (D-At large) and David A. Catania (I-At large), the council unanimously approved emergency legislation stating no more than six cultivation centers can be located in any one ward. And if five or more cultivation centers are located in any one ward, only one distribution center would be allowed there.

Initially, Orange and Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown (D) had been pushing legislation that would have capped cultivation centers, which will be allowed to grow up to 100 marijuana plants at time, at no more than five per ward. Their bill also would have barred distribution centers, where patients with a doctors’ prescription will be able to pick up marijuana, from any ward that houses five cultivation centers.

Approved by the council in 2010, the city’s medical marijuana law allows for 10 cultivation centers and five dispensaries in the city. But as the city struggles to implement a measure that will run counter to federal law, Northeast residents have expressed growing alarm that many of the cultivation centers were poised to open in Ward 5.

According to a council memo, seven cultivation center have received favorable reviews from the Department of Health. Six of the seven are located in Ward 5.

“We want none,” said Jacqueline Manning, a Ward 5 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner. “We are looking at the ward getting better, moving forward and not being a dumping ground.”

But council members Catania, chairman of the Health Committee, and Phil Mendelson (D-At large)), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, opposed Orange’s emergency legislation. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) also opposed the bill, sending a letter to council members warning it could undermine the city’s medical marijuana law.

“We already have restriction, on top of restriction, and with this emergency [bill], we will have an additional layer of restriction, which could just render the program impossible because we just won’t have cultivation centers,” Mendelson said.

But with uncertainty building on the dais about whether Mendelson and Catania had the votes to stop Orange and Brown, the last-minute deal of up to six cultivation centers per ward was struck. Under the deal, all six centers slated for Ward 5 that have received high scores from the ongoing city review process may be allowed to open.

Catania said the compromise was a sign the legislative process works. “I wasn’t sure if [Orange] had the votes, and I’m not sure I had the votes,” said Catania, noting eight of 12 sitting council members had to agree to enact emergency legislation. “It is a compromise that ameliorates concerns in Ward 5 but also preserves the integrity of the medial marijuana program.”

But Manning said she and her Northeast neighborhoods will continue to push for more restrictions on the cultivation centers in Ward 5, saying the area’s industrial zoning already makes it home to strip and night clubs.

“New York Avenue is the main gateway to the city, a major artery, less than a mile to Capitol Hill,” said Manning, who lives in near the arboretum. “We are never going to get major development like Georgetown if we continue to get things like this”