After a very unlucky 13 years that saw the District of Columbia’s medical marijuana law banished to a dark dungeon, this Halloween represents a significant date in the drive to finally establish a medi-pot program in the nation’s capital. October 31 is the last day applicants seeking to operate medicinal cannabis dispensaries can submit their proposals to the D.C. Dept of Health, which began accepting applications on October 3 from ten pre-approved potential dispensary directors. Ultimately five will be chosen to provide long overdue legal medical cannabis to D.C. patients.
Medical marijuana was originally legalized when Initiative 59 was passed in November 1998 with a resounding 69 percent of the D.C. vote. However, the then Republican-controlled U.S. Congress and President Clinton passed the aptly named Barr Amendment later in ‘98, which barred D.C. from funding medical marijuana. Yet in an unlikely twist of fate Bob Barr, the anti-drug warrior who was the architect of the amendment, was “born again” in 2006, switching from the GOP to the Libertarian Party and enthusiastically campaigned to have his own Barr Amendment overturned. Then-Democratic-controlled Congress lifted the ban in July 2009. The D.C. City Council unanimously passed a measure in May 2010 that legalized medi-pot in the city.
The momentum to finally let D.C. provide the medicine voters had legalized over a decade earlier was partially politically spurred by the tragic tale of D.C. resident Jonathan Magbie, a quadriplegic medi-pot patient who was arrested and later died in a D.C. jail due to inadequate healthcare while serving a ten-day pot possession sentence in 2004. If not for the Barr Amendment, Magbie would likely have avoided being arrested in the first place.
All this positive activity in D.C. comes at a time when that modest little entity they share space with known as the U.S. government is cracking down on medical marijuana with an unprecedented ferocity. With this in mind, the local D.C. government is requiring all medical marijuana dispensary applicants to state in writing that each will assume all risks for growing and distributing marijuana and that they will not be able to hold the city liable if they are busted by the feds. Once the D.C. dispensaries are fully functional, patients will be able to possess up to two ounces of dried medicine each, with Mayor Vincent Gray having the option to increase that amount to four ounces. In addition to the five dispensaries, there are also plans to establish ten cultivation centers citywide.