New bill could make medical marijuana more accessible in Washington DC

WASHINGTON (DC News Now) – Getting medical marijuana in Washington DC is now easier for residents thanks to an emergency bill passed earlier this week. Council members also hope it will encourage district residents to visit regulated district dispensaries rather than potentially unregulated stores that also carry cannabis.

Jean-Paul Zephir, general manager of KINFOLK dispensary, one of seven licensed dispensaries in the district, says this new bill will make legal and safe marijuana available to more people living in the district.

“Right now, removing barriers and allowing immediate access is definitely one of the most important things for us,” Zephir said.

DC residents no longer need to see a doctor or practitioner before receiving a medical marijuana card. Patients will soon be able to self-certify and avoid doctors altogether. Ward 3 council member Mary Cheh introduced the bill which garnered unanimous support from the rest of the council.

“They will self-certify in a form that the government will create to certify that in fact they need medical marijuana for medical purposes and that will be enough for them to go ahead and get it” , Cheh explained.

The DC Council hopes the move will encourage people to visit licensed clinics where certification is required.

“Everything we sell is locally produced, locally grown. It’s 100% regulated, we get inspections, we get everything checked to make sure we’re doing what we’re supposed to do,” Zephir explained. “In this case, there really isn’t any of that on the gray market.”

The gray market that Zephir refers to is made up of stores that aren’t licensed to sell marijuana, but legally distribute it for free, usually as freebies to customers who come to buy non-cannabis products. Most of them are black-owned businesses that are not part of the group of dispensaries that attract clients with medical certificates.

The i-71 committee, a coalition of local cannabis store owners and advocates, says they fully support efforts to make medical cannabis more accessible, especially to minorities and low-income residents. They released a statement that said in part:

“By removing this requirement and allowing patients to self-certify, the DC Council demonstrates its commitment to building a more equitable world where cannabis prohibition is a thing of the past.”

While this bill opens the door to more residents, one cannabis user says he still won’t go to a state-licensed dispensary.

“I’d rather do that than go to a clinic because it’s too much like a hospital or a pharmacy and I don’t play those games. I don’t walk in these places. I don’t like it,” said Kevin Lance Murray, a local cannabis user. “I’m excited to spend my hard-earned money at local gift shops and support black businesses.”

This emergency bill has not yet been put into effect because Mayor Muriel Bowser has not yet signed it. Although she expressed her support for the council, the bill has yet to reach her desk. When Mayor Bowser puts pen to paper, the bill will go into effect for 90 days while the DC council tries to push a more permanent bill through Congress.