DC Council passes bill easing restriction on medical marijuana for patients over 21 years old

Thanks to an emergency bill passed by the D.C. Council, access to medical marijuana is easier for D.C. residents over the age of 21 and older.

A doctor’s recommendation is no longer needed for patients looking to register for a patient card, meaning patients can now self-certify their eligibility for medical marijuana immediately. The emergency bill — introduced by D.C. Council members Mary Cheh and Kenyan McDuffie — passed Tuesday unanimously.

“These patients are going to places that have marijuana,” Cheh said, stressing that patrons gifted marijuana at unregulated shops, “cannot have confidence about its quality, about its safety.”

The bill is an attempt to protect customers and legal marijuana dispensaries from competition at “gifting shops” — businesses that gift marijuana along with the purchase of artwork, clothing or other items. D.C. leaders have called the practice a “gray market” due to the lack of regulation.

The bill is also attempts to remove barriers that keep patients from buying medical marijuana at one of the city’s seven dispensaries caused by a limited number of doctors able to provide recommendations — there are only 620 registered providers out of thousands in D.C.

Council members are now working on a permanent measure to solidify the emergency bill, Cheh said, which would also target illegal dispensaries. While the industry has grown, concerns that the bill will put small, illegal operators out of business is not a debate, Cheh said, that takes priority.

“That shouldn’t stop us from enforcing the law, and that’s what we have to do,” Cheh said. “It’s illegal and it ought to be stopped.”

When addressing concerns around whether the emergency bill makes access too easy, Cheh said it’s a step that must be taken to address the illegal market while protecting patients.

She hopes D.C. will eventually support a recreational market expanding business for medical dispensaries.

“So far we’ve been stymied by congressional interference but we’ll get there,” said Cheh.

Melissa Howell

Melissa Howell joined WTOP Radio in March 2018 and is excited to cover stories that matter across D.C., as well as in Maryland and Virginia. 

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