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D.C. Legislator Wants To Expand Access To Medical Marijuana

A small sample of medical marijuana available at Capital City Care, D.C.'s first legal dispensary.
Capital City Care
A small sample of medical marijuana available at Capital City Care, D.C.'s first legal dispensary.

D.C. Council member David Grosso (I-At Large) is asking the director of the Department of Health to expand the list of medical conditions that would allow a resident to legally use medical marijuana.

In a letter to acting director Joxel Garcia, Grosso writes that the existing limits on who can get medical marijuana leaves out residents who suffer from other serious conditions and puts an unfair financial burden on dispensaries and cultivation centers struggling to stay afloat.

"The District's medical marijuana program has experienced low participation rates since the first dispensary opened last July," wrote Grosso. "The narrow list of qualifying medical conditions is the primary problem that has led to low enrollment."

Under current rules, only residents suffering from HIV/AIDS, cancer, glaucoma, or severe spasms can get medical marijuana; residents recovering from chemotherapy or radiotherapy can also qualify. As of December of last year, 111 residents had registered with the department to receive medical marijuana, the majority seeking relief from HIV/AIDS or spasms.

In his letter, Grosso asks Garcia to expand the list of qualifying conditions to include post-traumatic stress disorder, epilepsy, Crohn's disease, dystonia, and endometriosis, as some states with medical marijuana programs do. By doing so, he wrote, the department could "prevent further needless pain and suffering for District residents."

At a hearing in October, Georgetown resident Ken Archer testified that he would move his family to California if the program's rules weren't expanded to allow his four-year-old son access to medical marijuana for his epilepsy. Archer said his son suffers from 10 to 15 seizures a day, and that other states with medical marijuana programs include the condition.

Scott Morgan, the spokesman for Capital City Care, says that adding conditions will allow the North Capitol Street-based dispensary to increase its base of 60 patients and move it towards financial sustainability.

"We've heard from many patients whose conditions aren't yet covered, and they're eager to participate as soon as possible. We're getting very positive feedback from our approved patients so far, and we're looking forward to being able to help others as well," he says.

D.C.'s program allows an advisory committee to expand the list of qualifying conditions, but the committee was only created late last year and has not yet met. (Once functional, city rules only require it to meet twice a year.) In his letter, Grosso said that unless he's provided with a timeline on when the committee will meet, he will introduce legislation in February that would expand the list of conditions.

Officials from the Department of Health were not immediately available for comment on Grosso's letter.

Medical marijuana was approved by 69 percent of D.C. voters in a 1998 referendum, but blocked by Congress until 2009. The first dispensary opened its doors in July of last year; there are two other dispensaries and three cultivation centers in operation.

Grosso has also introduced legislation that would scrap the medical marijuana program and instead legalize, tax and regulate the sale of marijuana to anyone over the age of 21.

01022014 Grosso Letter to Garcia Re_Medical Marijuana

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