Dozens of states in the United States have now legalized medical cannabis use. In most of these territories, qualifying patients have to receive a recommendation from their doctors before accessing medical marijuana. In Washington, DC, however, patients will now be able to certify themselves as medical cannabis patients without a physician’s recommendation after the mayor recently signed emergency legislation into law. The district council approved the measure unanimously last week in a 13-0 vote.
The emergency bill effectively allows the council to work around a congressional rider that forbids DC from using federal dollars to launch a recreational cannabis market. Councilmembers Mary Cheh and Kenyan McDuffie first introduced the bill.
Washington, DC, Mayor Muriel Bowser said that the legislation would build on efforts by Washington lawmakers to create a patient-centric medical cannabis program. She stated that allowing more patients to access medical marijuana when needed and leveling the playing field for licensed medical marijuana sellers will protect the residents, provide opportunities for local businesses and provide much-needed clarity.
Mayor Bowser applauded the district council for approving the legislation, calling it an innovative solution to the complex issues that affect the district’s medical cannabis sector. Furthermore, she added that she was looking forward to working with the council and the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) on future comprehensive and permanent medical cannabis reform.
District Council Chairman Phil Mendelson introduced a similar bill that would have facilitated the self-certification process a while back, but DC lawmakers voted it down in April. The bill had received criticism because of provisions that would have given law enforcement leeway to crack down on unlicensed businesses that were taking advantage of current policies to “gift” cannabis to customers who purchased unrelated services and gifts.
Faced with claims that these provisions could further the harms caused by the war on drugs while benefiting existing industry interests, Mendelson said that the bill said nothing about criminal penalties for such establishments. He argued that such businesses weren’t only a gray market, but they are illegal and are eroding the customer bases of licensed medical marijuana businesses. Mendelson said that his measure would make it easier for licensed medical cannabis businesses to maintain their customer bases. However, the law failed to advance.
The emergency legislation that was recently signed into law does not contain these enforcement provisions. However, it notes that customers often have little or no barriers to accessing cannabis from “gray” market suppliers.
The growing frustration about the hindrances to the cannabis industry originating from the federal government’s stance isn’t restricted to sector players such as Cannabis Strategic Ventures Inc. (OTC: NUGS). Even jurisdictions such as Washington, DC, are reaching the limit of their patience and have started finding workarounds to the outdated federal restrictions, as exemplified by the law discussed above.
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