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Washington, DC, will soon allow adults to self-certify for the city's medical cannabis program, essentially creating a legal recreational market for anyone who wants to partake.
The DC City Council just unanimously voted to pass the “Medical Marijuana Self-Certification Emergency Amendment Act of 2022,” a bill proposed by Councilmembers Kenyan McDuffie (D) and Mary Cheh (D). This bill will allow any DC resident aged 21 or older to certify their own eligibility for the city's medical marijuana program, without requiring a doctor's approval. Applicants will be able to receive their registered medical cannabis card just one day after filing their application in person.
The District's current medical cannabis program is only available to people who are diagnosed with specific qualifying conditions. In order to register with the program, a patient must first visit a licensed provider who can confirm their diagnosis and recommend medical pot as a treatment. These visits are time-consuming and expensive, and the vast majority of insurance providers refuse to cover these costs.
The new resolution will do away with all of these restrictions, other than the age limit. Any adult who wishes to buy weed from a licensed DC dispensary will only need to sign a form stating that they have a medical condition that could be treated by cannabis. Applicants must still cough up a $100 fee to get their card, but city officials will waive these costs until August 18th of this year. Patient and caregiver registrations have also recently been expanded to two years.
“By allowing residents 21+ to self-certify as medical cannabis patients, access to safe and legal medical cannabis will expand and residents will hopefully be deterred from obtaining potentially harmful 'street' cannabis from illegal sources,” said Linda Mercado Greene, Chair of the DC Cannabis Trade Association, to the Financial Post. “It is absolutely critical to have a safe, legal cannabis market so that those who use cannabis for therapeutic purposes are able to safely and reliably access their medicine.”
The resolution does indeed improve access for medical marijuana patients, but it also takes a huge step towards resolving the District's confusing mess of cannabis laws. DC initially legalized the possession and personal use of cannabis in 2014, but this voter-approved law did not legalize sales. Since sales were off the table, crafty entrepreneurs began using a legal loophole to gift “free” weed in exchange for donations or merch. But without regulations in place, these gray market retailers are free to ignore age and quality control restrictions if they so choose.
“Because these shops are operating outside of the law, there is no requirement or enforcement of customer registration, including verification that purchasers are of legal age,” the council's resolution explains. “In addition, for gray market products, there is no assurance that the marijuana has been tested or adequately labeled, raising concerns that products could be contaminated or otherwise unsafe for consumers, and that the potency of the marijuana purchased could differ from what was advertised.”
DC officials soon realized the error of their ways and started making moves to create a licensed adult-use retail market. But a Republican Congressmember from neighboring Maryland added an amendment to the annual federal budget bill that blocks the District from using its own money to regulate legal sales. This rider has been renewed every year since, even though Democrats currently have majority control of Congress and the presidency.
The council's bill works around this restriction by literally allowing any adult who wishes to buy weed to simply register for the city's existing medical marijuana program. City officials are not planning to verify that self-registered patients qualify for the specific conditions listed in DC's medical marijuana law. This will effectively allow any adult to legally shop at any licensed medical pot dispensary in the District.
The new resolution is a huge step in the right direction, but it does not quite amount to a fully legal adult-use market. After the summer ends, adults will still have to pay $100 every two years to participate in the program, and tourists will not be able to buy legal weed at all. DC Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) is still working with local lawmakers to draw up plans to fully legalize cannabis sales, but must first overcome the Biden administration's ongoing opposition to weed.