New lim­its put on city med­i­cal mar­i­juana

Grow­ing cen­ters fur­ther re­stricted

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

The D.C. Coun­cil on Tues­day im­posed new lim­its on the city’s med­i­cal mar­i­juana pro­gram about two weeks be­fore the long-awaited ini­tia­tive is ex­pected to be­gin in earnest.

Law­mak­ers ap­proved a pro­posal, through a 9-3 vote, that bans cul­ti­va­tion cen­ters from open­ing in “re­tail pri­or­ity ar­eas” flagged for de­vel­op­ment on pock­ets of land across the Dis­trict. Any ap­pli­cants af­fected by the leg­is­la­tion can change their lo­ca­tion within 180 days with­out it harm­ing their re­quest for reg­is­tra­tion from the city’s Depart­ment of Health to grow or sell the drug.

The leg­is­la­tion from coun­cil mem­ber Yvette M. Alexan­der, Ward 7 Demo­crat, will ap­ply city­wide. But the is­sue was spawned by com­plaints about a ware­house south of Ben­ning Road in her ward, where up to 95 mar­i­juana plants would be grown if one ap­pli­cant ob­tains a reg­is­tra­tion this month.

Plans are un­der way to build 376 res­i­den­tial units and 20,000 square feet of re­tail and restau­rants “mere feet away from an in­tended cul­ti­va­tion site,” Ms. Alexan­der told the coun­cil.

De­bate on the mea­sure was widerang­ing and con­fus­ing at times, with Ms. Alexan­der call­ing up her own mea­sure for re­con­sid­er­a­tion, even though it had passed, be­cause she re­al­ized an amend­ment by coun­cil mem­ber Phil Men­del­son, at-large Demo­crat, would not man­date that cul­ti­va­tion cen­ters re­lo­cate from re­tail-pri­or­ity ar­eas.

“It just de­stroyed the in­tent of the bill,” she said of the amend­ment, which re­moved the lan­guage on re­tail ar­eas and fo­cused on al­low­ing cul­ti­va­tion cen­ters to re­lo­cate with­out fac­ing a penalty.

The bill ap­pears most di­rectly to af­fect Phyto Man­age­ment — the ap­pli­cant that picked a spot be­tween Min­nesota Av­enue and In­ter­state 295 in Ward 7 — although it was writ­ten with all ap­pli­cants in mind.

Phyto’s prin­ci­pal, who is still wait­ing for reg­is­tra­tion from the city, de­clined to com­ment on the coun­cil’s ac­tions on Tues­day.

“They are will­ing to re­lo­cate,” Ms. Alexan­der said from the dais, not­ing she is com­mit­ted to help­ing Phyto find a new lo­ca­tion.

Mr. Men­del­son and coun­cil mem­ber David A. Cata­nia, at-large in­de­pen­dent, raised ob­jec­tions to al­ter­ing the tightly reg­u­lated med­i­cal mar­i­juana pro­gram that has been in the mak­ing since 1998, when city vot­ers ap­proved the pro­gram in a ref­er­en­dum be­fore con­gres­sional in­ter­ven­tion de­layed its im­ple­men­ta­tion for more than a decade.

The coun­cil mem­bers, who over­see ju­di­ciary and health mat­ters, played a key role in craft­ing med­i­cal mar­i­juana reg­u­la­tions in re­cent years. The Depart­ment of Health is slated to award up to 10 reg­is­tra­tions to cul­ti­va­tion cen­ters on March 30 and up to five reg­is­tra­tions for dis­pen­sary cen­ters — where the drug is doled out — by June 8.

Mr. Cata­nia said ob­jec­tions to cul­ti­va­tion cen­ters “pales in com­par­i­son to the con­tro­versy that is com­ing when we have to take up the is­sue of dis­pen­saries.”

“A cul­ti­va­tion cen­ter is sim­ply a ware­house,” he said. “It’s fully self­con­tained, there is no ob­vi­ous ev­i­dence of what is tak­ing place in­side, so there­fore I don’t re­ally feel it’s go­ing to im­pede the eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment of a com­mu­nity.”

Some coun­cil mem­bers were con­cerned about plac­ing ad­di­tional re­stric­tions on the pro­gram, af­ter the body’s decision in Jan­uary to re­strict the num­ber of med­i­cal mar­i­juana sites per ward to as­suage Ward 5 res­i­dents who felt they were tak­ing too many of the cul­ti­va­tion cen­ters.

Based on ex­ist­ing ap­pli­ca­tions, the re­stric­tion limited the num­ber of pos­si­ble cul­ti­va­tion cen­ters to seven, or six in Ward 5 and one in Ward 7. The num­ber could be cut to six if Phyto Man­age­ment runs into prob­lems re­lo­cat­ing.

“It’s hav­ing an ad­verse ef­fect on the pro­gram be­cause it’s lim­it­ing the sup­ply,” Mr. Men­del­son said.

Coun­cil mem­ber Jim Gra­ham, Ward 1 Demo­crat, joined Mr. Men­del­son and Mr. Cata­nia in vot­ing against the bill.

Mr. Men­del­son ini­tially voted for the bill but with­drew his sup­port af­ter Ms. Alexan­der killed his amend­ment to ex­clu­sively ad­dress the re­lo­ca­tion process. From the dais, he said Ms. Alexan­der’s bill did not need lan­guage on re­tail pri­or­ity ar­eas if cur­rent ap­pli­cants were truly ready and will­ing to move.

“There was disin­gen­u­ous­ness in the de­bate,” Mr. Men­del­son said af­ter the meet­ing.

AN­DREW HARNIK/THE WASHINGTON TIMES

D.C. Coun­cil mem­bers Vin­cent B. Orange and Yvette M. Alexan­der cel­e­brate ap­proval of her leg­is­la­tion to place ad­di­tional lim­its on the city’s med­i­cal mar­i­juana pro­gram at a leg­isla­tive meet­ing Tues­day. Coun­cil mem­bers, by a 9-3 vote, ap­proved ban­ning cul­ti­va­tion cen­ters from open­ing in “re­tail pri­or­ity ar­eas” flagged for de­vel­op­ment.

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