District of Columbia adults 21 and older will soon be able to self-certify their eligibility for medical Cannabis under a measure passed by the D.C. Council on Tuesday, reports The Washington Post. The bill passed on a 13-0 vote, reports Benzinga.
Licensed businesses have lost customers to more easily accessible Cannabis “gifting” shops based in the District. And the marijuana bill is the newest try by council members to support DC’s medical marijuana industry.
Unregulated gifting businesses, which give patrons weed when they purchase another item like a sticker or poster, grew in number after 2014 when voters legalized adult Cannabis use and possession (but not sales) in DC. Entrepreneurs say the gifting method offers a way around Congressional restrictions preventing the District from regulating weed sales.
More Than 40 Marijuana “Gifting Shops”
DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) and other lawmakers have criticized the District’s 40-plus marijuana gifting shops. They argue these untaxed “gray market” businesses pull residents away from the city’s seven regulated medical marijuana dispensaries, which are subject to taxes. In April, the council narrowly struck down a bill that would have allowed DC to impose harsh civil fines on gifting shops while also allowing any adult resident to self-certify to obtain medical marijuana.
On Tuesday, the council unanimously passed an emergency bill focusing only on self-certification. Mendelson argued that obtaining a practitioner’s recommendation for medical Cannabis is cumbersome. It creates delays for residents who need treatment, especially those who are uninsured or lack financial resources. That drives them toward the pot gifting businesses instead.
“Permitting patients to self-certify will provide a critical stopgap measure to help legal marijuana dispensaries retain and even win back medical marijuana patients from the illicit gray market,” reads the bill. Council members Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) and Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5) introduced the legislation.
“Savvy Business Owners Have Pushed The Legal Limits”
“Savvy business owners have pushed the legal limits on the gifting industry,” McDuffie said before the vote. “I’ve had medical dispensaries that have reached out to me and my staff and say that if we don’t pass this measure, it could put their businesses into jeopardy.”
In a statement, the i-71 Committee, which advocates for the city’s marijuana gifting businesses, said they were supportive of the bill. That’s in part because it increases access to marijuana “without harming legacy cannabis operators in the process.” Earlier this year, the council passed a bill allowing residents 65 and older to self-certify for medical marijuana until Sept. 30. The city enrolls patients who self-certify in the city’s medical marijuana registry.
Mendelson has vowed to pursue stronger penalties against gifting shops.
Patients Have Access To DC’s 7 Dispensaries
District residents older than 21 can now register for patient cards to access medical marijuana without a doctor’s approval. The patient cards give them access to any of the seven dispensaries located in DC, reports The Washington Examiner.
Proponents of the bill say it will ease access to medical Cannabis for potential patients. Some patients face challenges in finding a doctor who will provide a recommendation for medical marijuana. That’s because only 620 physicians registered with DC to authorize patients for marijuana. Some patients lack the time, insurance coverage, or money to manage a visit to a doctor.
Adult use and possession of Cannabis are already legal in DC. But Congress has oversight over the District’s laws. The annually-renewed Congressional spending bill rider has prevented DC from using local taxes to implement a system of legal marijuana commerce. Congress seems unswayed by the fact that DC voters legalized adult-use Cannabis possession, cultivation and gifting back in 2014.