Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser on Wednesday signed a bill into law that will ease access for medical cannabis patients in the nation’s capital.
Known as the Medical Marijuana Self-Certification Emergency Amendment Act of 2022, the measure will allow patients who are in the medical cannabis program to “self-certify” their qualifying condition for the treatment.
That means, effective immediately, those patients will no longer need to receive a recommendation from a doctor in order to receive a medical cannabis card.
Bowser hailed the new ordinance as a victory both for patients and medical cannabis providers.
“We have made it a priority over the years to build a more patient-centric medical marijuana program and this legislation builds on those efforts,” Bowser said in a statement on Wednesday. “We know that by bringing more medical marijuana patients into the legal marketplace in a timely manner and doing more to level the playing field for licensed medical marijuana providers, we can protect residents, support local businesses, and provide clarity to the community.”
“I applaud the Council for moving forward this innovative solution to a complex issue, and I look forward to working with the Council and ABRA on permanent, more comprehensive medical marijuana legislation in the future,” she continued.
The ordinance was passed late last month by the Washington, D.C. City Council.
Supporters of the measure said it was essential for medical cannabis dispensaries in Washington, D.C. that have taken a hit to their bottom line due to the prevalence of illicit pot retailers in the city.
“Due to the lower barriers to access in the gray market, a significant number of medical marijuana patients have shifted from purchasing their medical marijuana from legal medical dispensaries to the illicit gray market, creating a significant risk to the long-term viability of the District’s legal medical marijuana industry,” Councilmembers Kenyan McDuffie and Mary Cheh, the two sponsors of the ordinance, said in a statement last month. “If this trend continues, it is possible that gray market sales could wipe out the District’s legal marijuana dispensaries.”
Many of those unregulated cannabis retailers in Washington, D.C. employ the practice of “gifting,” by which a customer pays for a product such as a t-shirt and in turn receives a “gift” of cannabis.
In April, the D.C. City Council voted down a proposal that would have imposed hefty fines on those illicit pot stores.
Under the proposal, those unregulated shops would have been hit with fines up to $30,000. It also would have permitted adults aged 21 and older in D.C. to obtain medical cannabis without a doctor’s visit.
Looming over this dilemma is a Congress-imposed ban on recreational sales in Washington, D.C.
Voters in the district approved an initiative in 2014 that legalized recreational cannabis, but Congress, which oversees D.C. laws, has included a provision in every appropriations bill since then that prohibits the commercialization of recreational pot in the city.
It was a blow to cannabis advocates in the nation’s capital, and to Bowser, who expressed hope last fall when Senate Democrats unveiled a spending bill that did not include the provision.
“The Senate appropriations bill is a critical step in recognizing that in a democracy, D.C. residents should be governed by D.C. values,” Bower’s office said in a statement at the time. “As we continue on the path to D.C. statehood, I want to thank Senate Appropriations Committee Chair, Senator Patrick Leahy, our good friend and Subcommittee Chair, Senator Chris Van Hollen, and, of course, our champion on the Hill, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, for recognizing and advancing the will of D.C. voters. We urge Congress to pass a final spending bill that similarly removes all anti-Home Rule riders, allowing D.C. to spend our local funds as we see fit.”