A nearly 15-year fight in the nation’s capital to allow patients suffering from cancer, HIV/AIDS and other diseases to use marijuana with a doctor’s recommendation has reached a crescendo, with the city naming six locations that will be allowed to grow medical marijuana legally under local law (including a company owned partly by celebrity talk show host Montel Williams).
The announcement, which is sure to agitate the Obama Administration and some in Congress, comes at a time when U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and the Department of Justice are waging an unprecedented war on medical marijuana patients and providers in numerous states.
The Department of Health for the District of Columbia announced the names of the applicants that have been approved for licenses to cultivate medical marijuana in the nation’s capital on Friday morning, bringing qualifying patients one step closer to being able to use cannabis to treat their conditions.
|Drug Policy Alliance|
|Bill Piper, director of national affairs, Drug Policy Alliance: “The mayor and council should be commended for moving forward with D.C.‘s medical marijuana program, even though the Obama Administration has declared open season on medical patients and providers”|
After a series of delay, the Department of Health said that six applicants had best met the strict criteria set forth by the D.C. Council last year. These cultivation centers will be responsible for providing all the medical marijuana for the District and could begin production in less than a month.
“The mayor and council should be commended for moving forward with D.C.‘s medical marijuana program, even though the Obama Administration has declared open season on medical patients and providers,” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance
. “Medical marijuana will soon be growing just blocks from the White House and Congress—opponents of a compassionate marijuana policy need to realize that they’re on the losing side of history.”
“I am thrilled that the District of Columbia is one step closer to having the medical marijuana program available for those patients most in need,” said Dr. Mohammad Akhter, director of the D.C. Department of Health. “The selected applicants went through a rigorous process, and I am confident that these applicants are capable of ensuring patient and public safety, as they have met all the criteria defined in the program regulations.”
“This is a major step for patients that could benefit from this program toward finally finding relief,” said Dan Riffle, legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project
. “Congress and the D.C. government have been delaying implementation since 1998, and it is good to see that patients will soon have access to their medicine.”
|Marijuana Policy Project|
|DanRiffle, legislative analyst, Marijuana Policy Project: “This is a major step for patients that could benefit from this program toward finally finding relief”|
“The medical marijuana program established in the District is a model of safety and effectiveness,” Riffle said. “Mayor Vincent Gray should be congratulated for listening to his constituents and serving the seriously ill patients of the District.”
D.C. voters first approved medical marijuana back in 1998, but Congress, with the Barr Amendment
introduced by Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.), blocked implementation of the ballot measure by prohibiting the District from enacting the law. That prohibition was repealed by Congress in 2009, and in 2010 the D.C. Council unanimously approved medical marijuana legislation, joining 16 states that allow patients to use cannabis with a doctor’s recommendation.
The D.C. law allows up to 10 cultivation centers and eight medical marijuana dispensaries to operate in the District. The exact locations of the medical marijuana dispensaries will be announced later this year.
Medical marijuana advocates are worried about how the Obama Administration will react. As a candidate for President, Obama said both that he supported the right of doctors to recommend marijuana to their patients, and that he would stop the federal government from wasting law enforcement resources on raiding, arresting and prosecuting people for medical marijuana, especially if they are complying with their state law.
|American Journal of Public Health|
|Dr. Mohammad Akhter, D.C. Department of Public Health: “I am thrilled that the District of Columbia is one step closer to having the medical marijuana program available for those patients most in need”|
He followed through on this promise in his first year in the White House. The Justice Department issued guidance to U.S. Attorneys urging them not to waste resources prosecuting people for medical marijuana who are in compliance with their state laws.
In the last year, however, the Obama Administration has changed course. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has increased its raids on medical marijuana dispensaries. U.S. Attorneys have sent letters to landlords who rent office space to dispensaries, threatening to arrest them and seize their buildings under federal asset forfeiture laws.
The Treasury Department has threatened to prosecute banks that open checking or savings accounts for dispensaries. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has denied dispensaries the ordinary business expense deductions allowed for all other forms of business.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) has said that any medical marijuana patient who possesses a firearm will get 10 years in federal prison. U.S. Attorneys have even sent letters to state legislators and governors, timed to influence state decision-making processes, declaring that they might arrest people in their state if they pass a medical marijuana law or expand existing medical marijuana laws.
Advocates worry that seriously ill patients will lack access to the medicine they need if the Obama Administration raids D.C.‘s medical marijuana dispensaries and cultivation centers. Unlike most medical marijuana states, D.C. law prohibits patients from cultivating their own marijuana.
D.C. also has the only medical marijuana law to make it a crime for a patient to possess marijuana not bought from a dispensary. If the Justice Department shuts down D.C.‘s medical marijuana dispensaries and cancer, HIV/AIDS and other patients are forced to buy marijuana off the streets, they will face arrest, prosecution and incarceration for an entirely new charge created by the medical marijuana law—possessing the “wrong” marijuana!
“Given the Obama administration’s ongoing war on medical marijuana dispensaries, it is irresponsible of the D.C. Council not to allow patients to grow their own—and it’s outright cruel to subject them to jail time for obtaining their medicine from whatever source they can,” Piper said. “The D.C. Council should pass emergency legislation providing for a back-up plan in case the federal government shuts down local dispensaries.