Public officials in Washington, D.C. are making major changes to the area’s cannabis market. On June 29, the city council of Washington, D.C. reportedly passed an emergency bill that would remove barriers to accessing medical cannabis cards. Instead of seeking approval from a physician, residents over the age of 21 can self-certify themselves when pursuing a medical cannabis card.
This is not the first time that local officials in Washington, D.C. have taken such measures to ease the process of obtaining a medical cannabis card. Previously, the area’s city council passed a similar bill that allowed residents over the age of 65 to self-certify themselves when pursuing a medical cannabis card.
Proponents of these measures have argued that it will be a positive for those who have run into issues finding a doctor who will approve their pursuit of a medical cannabis card. Additional reporting from NPR also highlights the city’s desire to level the playing field between medical dispensaries and gifting shops. Under current city laws, medical dispensaries are only able to sell cannabis to those with medical cannabis cards. However, “gifting” shops can offer free cannabis to those who buy ancillary items such as paintings, pottery, etc.
“Due to the lower barriers to access in the gray market, a significant number of medical marijuana patients have shifted from purchasing their medical marijuana from legal medical dispensaries to the illicit gray market, creating a significant risk to the long-term viability of the District’s legal medical marijuana industry,” a declaration from councilmembers Kenyan McDuffie and Mary Cheh reads.
“If this trend continues, it is possible that gray market sales could wipe out the District’s legal marijuana dispensaries.”
Medical dispensaries offer cannabis that is regulated and meets industry standards. Unfortunately, these dispensaries are often devoid of entrepreneurs of colors. A report from WAMU indicates that medical cannabis sales in the nation’s capital started in 2013, but the city’s first majority Black-owned dispensary, Cannabliss, didn’t open until about five years later. Today, a city is known as the “Chocolate City” is primarily home to medical dispensaries that lack majority Black ownership.
“African-Americans are largely underrepresented in the licensed cannabis industry, whereas most of the [gifting] businesses are owned by Black D.C. natives,” the Washington, D.C. branch of the NAACP wrote in a letter to Phil Mendelson earlier this year.
As the city sorts out how it will handle “gifting” or I-71 businesses, Mayor Muriel Bowser is expected to sign off on the emergency bill allowing residents to self-certify themselves.