SUMMARY: D.C. Council Members enacted legislation in May 2010 authorizing the establishment of regulated medical marijuana dispensaries in the District of Columbia. On Monday, July 26, members of Congress allowed the measure to become law without federal interference.

The law amends the Legalization of Marijuana for Medical Treatment Initiative, a 1998 municipal ballot measure which garnered 69 percent of the vote yet was never implemented. Until 2010, D.C. city lawmakers had been barred from instituting the measure because of a Congressional ban on the issue. Congress finally lifted the ban in 2009.

Under the law, D.C. Health Department officials will oversee the creation of as many as eight facilities to dispense medical cannabis to authorized patients. Medical dispensaries would be limited to growing no more than 95 plants on site at any one time.

Both non-profit and for-profit organizations will be eligible to operate the dispensaries.

Qualifying D.C. patients will be able to obtain medical cannabis at these facilities, but will not be permitted under the law to grow their own medicine. Patients diagnosed with the following illnesses are afforded legal protection under this act: HIV or AIDS; glaucoma; conditions characterized by severe and persistent muscle spasms, such as multiple sclerosis; cancer; or any other condition, as determined by rulemaking, that is: “(i) chronic or long-lasting; “(ii) debilitating or interferes with the basic functions of life; and (iii) A serious medical condition for which the use of medical marijuana is beneficial: (I) That cannot be effectively treated by any ordinary medical or surgical measure; “(II) For which there is scientific evidence that the use of medical marijuana is likely to be significantly less addictive than the ordinary medical treatment for that condition. The maximum amount of medical marijuana that any qualifying patient may possess at any moment is 2 ounces of dried medical marijuana, though this limit is subject to revision by the Mayor.

A separate provision enacted as part of the 2011 D.C. budget calls for the retail sales of medical cannabis to be subject to the District’s six percent sales tax rate. Low-income will be allowed to purchase medical marijuana at a greatly reduced cost under the plan.

It will likely be several months before Health officials establish a patient registry and/or begin accepting applications from the public to operate the City’s medical marijuana production and distribution centers.

The medical use provisions in the District of Columbia do not include reciprocity provisions protecting visitors from other medical use states.

CAREGIVERS: Yes. Caregiver is a person designated by a qualifying patient as the person authorized to possess, obtain from a dispensary, dispense, and assist in the administration of medical marijuana. The caregiver must be 18 years of age or older. The caregiver must be registered with the Department as the qualifying patient’s caregiver. A caregiver may only serve one qualifying patient at a time.  D.C. Act 13-138 §2 (3) (2010).

CONTACT INFORMATION: DC City Council Committee on Health or DC Department of Health