City on a Hill: D.C. reaches higher ground

February 21, 2013

Last week, anticipation for medical marijuana in the District heightened, as its first medical pot dispensary announced it plans to open as soon as April. David Guard, General Manager at Capitol City Care on North Capitol st. told a local television station he is already seeing demand for his product.

“We get knocks on the door almost on a daily basis now … from MS patients to cancer patients and AIDS patients,” he said.

But even with a waiting consumer base, Guard’s business may be on shaky ground. Medical marijuana as an idea hasn’t done all that well in D.C. as of late. Six potential dispensaries are licensed to open around the city in coming months, but it remains to be seen here, as in other states, how the federal government will treat them. A number of Advisory Neighborhood Commisions, including ours, have objected to dispensaries in their neighborhoods, and last year the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia prosecuted two AIDS activists arrested at a rally after they tested positive for cannabis during their parole. Both had medical marijuana cards to treat HIV/AIDS, but this was not enough for federal prosecutors to lay off.

That untapped market and who comprises it should provide the impetus the city and the federal government need to fast track the dispensaries into operation. The time for medical marijuana has come, and D.C. has an opportunity to act as a model for the nation on how to manage and regulate it.

Marijuana was never meant to have the stigma associated with it today. Although listed as a Schedule I drug along with cocaine and heroin, it was put on the list only temporarily in 1970 pending the results of a government study on its health effects. The study ultimately found marijuana’s harmful effects were so negligible for non-heavy users that personal use should not be illegal. But the political realities in the Nixon-era battle against the doobie-smoking counterculture meant the drug remained on the list.

Fast forward 40 some years and the discourse around weed seems to be changing, albeit slowly. Compared to commonly-prescribed narcotic pain drugs or powerful sleep aids, marijuana has proved a safe and effective medication for millions of patients.

Preliminary trials and user testimony even point to its effectiveness as an alternative to anti-psychotic drugs in treating Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but the Department of Health and Human Services will not allow studies to proceed because cannabis is still illegal under federal law. Even so, one only needs to look at the passage of marijuana legalization referendums in Colorado and Washington State this past November and its status as California’s top cash crop to ascertain the momentum behind the marijuana revival.

The remaining critics of medical pot usually raise concerns about security and black market sales—making sure dispensaries don’t sell to recreational users as well as patients. In this respect, Capitol Care seems to be moving in the right direction. To comply with what Guard says are the strictest regulations concerning medical marijuana in the country, the store will employ a security guard to check users’ IDs and medical cards against a Department of Health database.

Depending on how difficult it becomes to get a medical card in the District (it’s pretty easy in other places), D.C. could well become a model of strict and responsible medical marijuana legislation.

Of course, it would be more sensible to simply legalize possession and sale of small amounts of cannabis and save the countless man hours, millions of dollars and thousands of needless incarcerations involved with the enforcement of marijuana prohibition. But, until that happens, it’s only humane that the District and especially the Feds allow patients with chronic or terminal illnesses access to this safe and effective medication.

If the D.C. government is as progressive as it purports, it will publicly state its opposition to the federal government’s anti-cannabis position, and facilitate the opening of a large medical marijuana market, complete with strict regulations and taxation.

Perhaps if the nation’s capital can prove the sky won’t fall if some of its citizens have open, legal access to pot, the federal government could be persuaded to end its misguided war on weed.

Get high with Gavin at

Gavin Bade
Gavin Bade is a former Editor in Chief of The Georgetown Voice


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