Adults living in Washington, D.C., will be able to self-certify they need marijuana for medical purposes without presenting a doctor’s recommendation.
Under emergency legislation passed Tuesday, district residents older than 21 will be permitted to register for patient cards to access medical marijuana without a doctor’s approval, giving them access to any of the seven dispensaries located in the district. The move follows similar legislation enacted by the Council of the District of Columbia earlier this year that permitted residents older than 65 to self-certify. The move is the city’s latest effort to support its dispensaries from the so-called “gray market.”
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Use and possession of recreational marijuana are already legal in Washington, but selling and purchasing the drug is restricted by Congress, which has oversight over the district’s laws. As a result, several businesses throughout the district have operated through an unregulated “gifting” system — meaning shops offer marijuana to customers for free if they purchase something else.
This gifting system, often called the “gray market” by local lawmakers, has driven business away from city-regulated medical marijuana dispensaries, which are subject to taxes, because the vendors can offer lower prices.
“Due to the lower barriers to access in the gray market, a significant number of medical marijuana patients have shifted from purchasing their medical marijuana from legal medical dispensaries to the illicit gray market, creating a significant risk to the long-term viability of the district’s legal medical marijuana industry,” said councilmembers Kenyan McDuffie and Mary Cheh. “If this trend continues, it is possible that gray market sales could wipe out the district’s legal marijuana dispensaries. Given the … benefits that regulated and safe legal dispensaries provide to medical marijuana users in the district, it is vital that the industry survive until the district can stand up a regulated recreational market and transition toward full regulation of recreational marijuana products.”
City lawmakers will begin seeking measures to further crack down on businesses that “gift” marijuana, with Council Chairman Phil Mendelson arguing that district-run dispensaries are key to establishing a legal recreational market if one is ever approved in Washington.
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“It’s not an equal playing field and will never be as long as there are illegal cannabis gifting shops,” he said. “As long as there are these businesses, the legal industry won’t be there to step in [when legalization happens].”
The emergency bill will head to Mayor Muriel Bowser’s desk for her signature, and it will take effect immediately if she signs. The mayor has voiced support for the legislation.