Ward 7 pro­posed for cul­ti­va­tion cen­ter

The Washington Times Daily - - Metro - BY TOM HOW­ELL JR.

Seven weeks af­ter the D.C. Coun­cil banned the ex­ces­sive clus­ter­ing of med­i­cal-mar­i­juana fa­cil­i­ties to as­suage res­i­dents of Ward 5, a city law­maker is hop­ing to re­lo­cate the only el­i­gi­ble cul­ti­va­tion cen­ter to a site east of the Ana­cos­tia River.

Coun­cil mem­ber Yvette M. Alexan­der, Ward 7 Demo­crat, says the site pro­posed along Ben­ning Road — where up to 95 mar­i­juana plants would be grown — could up­set plans for fu­ture re­tail and res­i­den­tial de­vel­op­ment in the area.

She said the leg­is­la­tion is not in op­po­si­tion to the med­i­cal­mar­i­juana pro­gram. But res­i­dents and an ad­vi­sory neigh­bor­hood com­mis­sion dis­ap­proved of Phyto Man­age­ment’s pro­posal and its lo­ca­tion in an area that could gain sig­nif­i­cant foot traf­fic in com­ing years.

Ms. Alexan­der said Phyto’s place of choice — a ware­house tucked be­tween In­ter­state 295 and Min­nesota Av­enue South­east — is not in an area the com­mu­nity con­sid­ers “in­dus­trial,” though it meets the zon­ing re­quire­ments pre­scribed by the med­i­cal-mar­i­juana law.

Ms. Alexan­der said she is try­ing to find a new site for Phyto, whose pro­posal made it through the first round of scor­ing by a panel of health, reg­u­la­tory and law en­force­ment of­fi­cials.

She said an in­dus­trial site in the ward’s Ke­nil­worth neigh­bor­hood of North­east would be a prefer­able spot for the cen­ter, and she is also work­ing with coun­cil mem­ber Mar­ion Barry, Ward 8 Demo­crat, to find an al­ter­na­tive site in his ward.

Phyto’s prin­ci­pal, An­dras Kirschner, said that the Dis­trict’s care­fully reg­u­lated pro­gram has been fair, but that zon­ing reg­u­la­tions and a short sub­mis­sion time­line did not al­low the com-

pany to “gather a con­sen­sus from com­mu­nity mem­bers prior to sub­mis­sion of the ap­pli­ca­tion.”

Mr. Kirschner said Phyto chose its lo­ca­tion af­ter re­view­ing 40 in­dus­trial prop­er­ties and, be­cause of pro­gram reg­u­la­tions, is “nei­ther in­tend­ing to move nor ac­tively look­ing to move be­cause we are not per­mit­ted to move.”

Phyto has been pay­ing rent since Oct. 1 and would like as­sur­ances that it can ap­ply for a new lo­ca­tion if city law­mak­ers de­cide to pro­hibit its pre­ferred site, Mr. Kirschner said.

The bill is the coun­cil’s sec­ond at­tempt in three months to de­fine the pa­ram­e­ters of the city’s med­i­cal-mar­i­juana pro­gram, which is still vet­ting ap­pli­cants.

In mid-jan­uary, the coun­cil capped the num­ber of cul­ti­va­tion cen­ters in a sin­gle ward at six. Any ward that ac­cepts five cul­ti­va­tion cen­ters can­not ac­cept more than one dis­pen­sary, a site where the drug is dis­trib­uted to qual­i­fied pa­tients.

That change ad­dressed the con­cerns of res­i­dents in Ward 5 be­cause zon­ing and se­cu­rity re­stric­tions re­sulted in many med­i­cal-mar­i­juana en­trepreneurs seek­ing space in ware­houses near Bladens­burg Road and New York Av­enue North­east.

Ms. Alexan­der’s leg­is­la­tion ap­plies solely to Phyto’s ap­pli­ca­tion, so it does not open the door to changes among other ap­pli­cants.

“I think my col­leagues will be sup­port­ive,” Ms. Alexan­der said of her bill’s chances. “It’s not an op­po­si­tion to the med­i­cal-mar­i­juana pro­gram.”

Coun­cil Chair­man Kwame R. Brown de­clined to fore­cast the full leg­is­la­ture’s stance ahead of the meet­ing.

“We’ll be hav­ing that dis­cus­sion” Tues­day, he said.

Mr. Kirschner said his com­pany “will not stand in the way” of Ward 7’s plans, but noted that the cur­rent ware­house is ideal and that Phyto would like to be able to use it at least for the three to five years be­fore re­de­vel­op­ment be­gins in the sur­round­ing area.

A spokes­woman for the D.C. Depart­ment of Health, which over­sees the med­i­cal-mar­i­juana pro­gram, de­clined to com­ment on the leg­is­la­tion.

The Dis­trict ap­proved med­i­cal mar­i­juana in a 1998 ref­er­en­dum, yet con­gres­sional in­ter­ven­tion forced it to wait for more than a decade to move on the ini­tia­tive.

The city’s health depart­ment is rolling out the pro­gram in a tightly reg­u­lated man­ner, en­ter­ing the final phase of the ap­pli­ca­tion process be­fore award­ing up to 10 cul­ti­va­tion reg­is­tra­tions and five dis­pen­sary reg­is­tra­tions this spring.

Yet wa­ver­ing stances from fed­eral drug en­force­ment of­fi­cials have put mar­i­juana pro­grams across the coun­try on un­cer­tain ground.

The Dis­trict — through its me­thod­i­cal ap­proach — should avoid fed­eral in­ter­fer­ence, although it did ask ap­pli­cants to sign a waiver that re­leases the city from li­a­bil­ity if the fed­eral gov­ern­ment de­cides to pros­e­cute the pro­gram’s par­tic­i­pants.


D.C. Coun­cil mem­ber Yvette M. Alexan­der hopes to re­lo­cate the only el­i­gi­ble med­i­cal-mar­i­juana cul­ti­va­tion cen­ter to a site in her ward east of the Ana­cos­tia River.

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