D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) heralded the opening of the first medical marijuana dispensary east of the Anacostia River, adding that she hopes to see new recreational marijuana dispensaries eventually open throughout the city.
A host of city officials and marijuana entrepreneurs gathered Thursday to celebrate the launch of Anacostia Organics in the Southeast D.C. neighborhood, the sixth dispensary in the city.
The new dispensary was made possible by 2017 legislation that gave preference to minority-owned businesses looking to enter the marijuana industry. Advocates say racial equity in the marijuana industry can help make amends for laws and policies that saw African Americans disproportionately locked up for drug-related offenses.
The legislation has also helped a D.C. political insider.
Linda Mercado Greene, the owner and chair of BCG Holdings Inc., the parent company for Anacostia Organics, is well known in local political circles. She was Marion Barry’s chief of staff when he represented Ward 8 on the D.C. Council and is an ex-girlfriend of former mayor and current Ward 7 Council member Vincent C. Gray. She serves as one of Bowser’s appointees to the Historic Preservation Review Board.
BCG Holdings’ other board members include attorney and former PBS executive Sherri Blount, public relations executive Yolanda Caraway and H. Marrel Foushee, who held District government posts decades ago.
Greene said she spent five years trying to enter the marijuana market. She turned to members of the D.C. Council to expand a medical marijuana industry that had no retail outlets in Wards 7 and 8, the most impoverished parts of the city and home to a fifth of the nearly 6,000 registered medical marijuana patients. The closest marijuana dispensary for Southeast residents was at Eastern Market.
At Thursday’s launch party, Greene credited members of the council and the mayor for making her business possible, calling Bowser a “dear friend” and declaring that the mayor had “national things” on her horizon. The mayor cracked a smile but shook her head at the prospect of a national platform.
The mayor, along with Council member Trayon White Sr. (D-Ward 8) and D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), praised the arrival of a dispensary on the eastern and most heavily African American side of the city that has struggled to attract new development.
Before the ribbon-cutting, the dispensary owners arranged for an African libation ceremony to bless their new business — a ritual pouring of water accompanied by drumming and chanting. The man who performed the libation ceremony gave Greene a new African last name, which he said translates to “one who heals with herbs.”
In addition to dispensaries, retail marijuana outlets in the nation’s capital could soon be on their way as a consequence of Democrats taking control of the U.S. House.
House Republicans used to place language in the federal budget blocking the District from spending local funds on regulating and taxing the recreational sale of marijuana. Current law allows District residents to possess and grow their own marijuana in small quantities, but not to legally purchase it. With Republicans out of power, city officials including Bowser want to tax and regulate marijuana sales.
Council member David Grosso (I-At Large) introduced a bill to regulate marijuana and would prioritize applicants for retail outlets who are black, longtime city residents or formerly incarcerated — an attempt to boost the industry’s diversity.
Bowser said she wasn’t familiar with those portions of Grosso’s bill but said she would also make racial equity a priority when she announces her own plan.
“We have time to be thoughtful about how we set it up, learn from other jurisdictions about what went right and what went wrong, and propose the most equitable plan possible,” she said.