A rabbi and a lawyer walk into city hall D.C. mar­i­juana dispensary pro­gram lures eclec­tic mix of ap­pli­cants

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY TOM HOW­ELL JR.

With names such as District of Cannabis and Jahrock, hopeful en­trepreneurs ea­ger to grow or sell med­i­cal mar­i­juana in the District of Columbia are tout­ing their busi­ness acu­men, green thumbs, or de­sire to aid the ill and dy­ing in ap­pli­ca­tions sub­mit­ted to the city.

They in­clude non­profit ac­tivists, a rabbi and a well-known lawyer who rep­re­sented the “D.C. Madam.”

Sev­eral ap­pli­cants, such as the women be­hind Jahrock, speak openly and en­thu­si­as­ti­cally about their prospects, while oth­ers refuse to show their cards as they com­pete for per­mits for 10 cul­ti­va­tion cen­ters and five dis­pen­saries.

Tam­ina Pryor and Monique Wat­son cre­ated their com­pany’s name, Jahrock, by jum­bling to­gether their chil­dren’s ini­tials and ad­mir­ing the re­sults. The ex­ec­u­tive as­sis­tants be­lieve in holis­tic medicine.

“It’s funny [be­cause] it sounds Ja­maican,” Ms. Pryor said. So does the reg­gae mu­sic on their com­pany phone line, which of­fers the sooth­ing re­frain of “feel good” while call­ers wait for some­one to pick up.

One po­ten­tial grower, who asked not to be iden­ti­fied, said the “art of sur­prise” in a com­pet­i­tive and highly reg­u­lated en­vi­ron­ment pre­vents him from dis­cussing the mat­ter. The mar­ket­ing part­ner for an­other ap­pli­cant, the Po­tomac Pa­tients First Group, said he can­not com­ment, on the ad­vice of at­tor­neys. An­other ap­pli­cant re­sponded to a list of ques­tions with this: “How did you get my in­for­ma­tion?”

Since late April, an eclec­tic mix of po­ten­tial grow­ers and sell­ers has writ­ten let­ters of in­tent to the D.C. Depart­ment of Health to kick off the lon­gawaited pro­gram, join­ing 16 states in le­gal­iz­ing use for qual­i­fied pa­tients.

Mayor Vin­cent C. Gray, a Demo­crat, is­sued rules last month that re­quire peo­ple in­ter­ested in cul­ti­vat­ing or dis­pens­ing med­i­cal mar­i­juana in the District to send no­ti­fi­ca­tion to the Health Reg­u­la­tion and Li­cens­ing Ad­min­is­tra­tion, a branch of the city health depart­ment, by June 17, ahead of a more for­mal ap­pli­ca­tion.

In the first three weeks, the agency re­ceived nearly a dozen let­ters from com­pa­nies ex­press­ing in­ter­est in both facets of the busi­ness, ac­cord­ing to doc­u­ments ob­tained through the Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Act.

A panel of five mem­bers, one each from the Depart­ment of Health, Metropoli­tan Po­lice Depart­ment, at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice, Depart­ment of Con­sumer and Reg­u­la­tory Af­fairs, and a con­sumer or pa­tient ad­vo­cate, will score each of the even­tual ap­pli­ca­tions based on a 250point scale that ex­am­ines cri­te­ria such as se­cu­rity and staffing at their fa­cil­i­ties, their over­all busi­ness plans, and the opin­ions of lo­cal ad­vi­sory neigh­bor­hood com­mis­sions.

An ap­pli­cant must be at least 21 years old and not have been con­victed of any felonies or mis­de­meanor drug crimes. Half of the $5,000 ap­pli­ca­tion fee is non­re­fund­able, which may thin out the pool of ap­pli­cants.

Adam Eidinger said his non­profit, the District of Columbia Pa­tients’ Co­op­er­a­tive, has been well-re­ceived by ad­vi­sor y neigh­bor­hood com­mis­sions near its home base in Adams Mor­gan. Af­ter all, he noted, a med­i­cal mar­i­juana dispensary is not com­pa­ra­ble to a tav­ern.

“You don’t have live mu­sic com­ing out the win­dows and drunk peo­ple com­ing out the door,” he said.

Mr. Eidinger, a long­time D.C. ac­tivist, said his non­profit comes at the is­sue from a dif­fer-

One po­ten­tial grower, who asked not to be iden­ti­fied, said the “art of sur­prise” in a com­pet­i­tive and highly reg­u­lated en­vi­ron­ment pre­vents him from dis­cussing the mat­ter. The mar­ket­ing part­ner for an­other ap­pli­cant, the Po­tomac Pa­tients First Group, said he can­not com­ment, on the ad­vice of at­tor­neys. An­other ap­pli­cant re­sponded to a list of ques­tions with this: “How did you get my in­for­ma­tion?”

ent an­gle than busi­ness moguls dip­ping into a new mar­ket. He said his group is more con­cerned with pa­tient ac­cess and af­ford­abil­ity. Plus, of­fi­cial lim­its on plant cul­ti­va­tion and an un­clear pa­tient de­mand make the mar­ket frag­ile.

“This is no gold rush,” Mr. Eidinger said. “If I were mo­ti­vated by profit, I would have quit a long time ago.”

Mr. Eidinger can speak knowl­edge­ably and ex­ten­sively about med­i­cal mar­i­juana, but cer­tain things are off-lim­its. That in­cludes their po­ten­tial cul­ti­va­tion sites (it’s a se­cu­rity is­sue, he said) or when he re­al­ized that cannabis could help his own chronic arthri­tis.

The it’s-still-il­le­gal no­tion of mar­i­juana use and cul­ti­va­tion, even while medic­i­nal pro­grams emerge across the coun­try, puts the topic on ten­u­ous ground.

“This is about peo­ple be­ing treated as crim­i­nals who are ac­tu­ally sick,” Mr. Eidinger said.

Be­yond com­mu­nity ap­proval, cul­ti­va­tion cen­ters must meet tight re­stric­tions on size, a strin­gent 95-plant al­lot­ment, staffing, light­ing and buf­fer zones be­tween cul­ti­va­tion cen­ters and schools.

Ap­pli­cants who agreed to speak about their ef­forts were ei­ther re­luc­tant to dis­close their pro­posed cul­ti­va­tion sites or are still look­ing. What is clear from mul­ti­ple ap­pli­ca­tions, how­ever, is that many of them are look­ing at sites in the North­east part of the city be­cause of the avail­able in­dustr ial space there.

“I found it very dif­fi­cult to find space, and I was ver y pleased when I did,” said Mont­gomery Blair Si­b­ley, who found a fa­cil­ity on New York Av­enue in North­east. He filed an ap­pli­ca­tion for his “The Medic­i­nal Mar­i­juana Com­pany of the District of Columbia” on let­ter­head that fea­tures an “Rx” phar­macy sym­bol su­per­im­posed on a mar­i­juana leaf.

Mr. Si­b­ley, who rep­re­sented “D.C. Madam” Deb­o­rah Jeane Pal­frey in 2007, said his legal back­ground should help him nav­i­gate the small print of the per­mit process and strict gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tions as he pur­sues this “eco­nomic op­por­tu­nity.”

“I be­lieve it’s an in­dus­try that’s go­ing to grow rapidly,” he said.

But first, he’s got to make the cut.

“I think all of us are start­ing from scratch on this,” Ms. Pryor said. “We’re hop­ing the process is fair.”

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Bud­ding gold­mine? Mar­i­juana plants be­ing grown in Seat­tle. The mar­i­juana is dis­trib­uted to mem­bers of a co­op­er­a­tive of med­i­cal pa­tients who have re­ceived doc­tor’s au­tho­riza­tion to use the drug to treat their ill­nesses.

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