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New Washington, D.C. Policy Lets Adults ‘Self-Certify’ for Medical Cannabis

City lawmakers in Washington, D.C. adopted an emergency ordinance on Tuesday designed to ease access to the medical cannabis program in the nation’s capital by allowing all adults to “self-certify” their eligibility to use medicinal pot. The proposal would eliminate the requirement for adults aged 21 or older to provide a recommendation from their health care providers to obtain a medical marijuana identification card.

The bill’s supporters argue that it will simplify access for patients to medicinal cannabis. This is especially true for those with difficulty visiting a doctor. Of the many Washington, D.C. doctors who practice medicine, only 620 have been authorized to give medical cannabis recommendations. The city council approved a similar ordinance in January that would have allowed people 65 years and over to self-certify their eligibility for medical marijuana cards. However, that ordinance was repealed on May 1.

“This self-certification is urgently needed for consumers and dispensaries alike,” said Councilmember Janeese Lewis George, as quoted by the DCist. “Expanding our patient base is a necessary first step to putting them on an equal playing field.”

Washington, D.C. Dispensaries Facing Competition from Illicit Businesses

Councilmembers Kenyan McDuffie & Mary Cheh introduced Tuesday’s emergency ordinance. The bill’s supporters also believe it will allow regulated medical dispensaries to compete with the illegal cannabis industry.

“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,” McDuffie and Cheh said in a statement accompanying the emergency bill. “If this trend continues, it is possible that gray market sales could wipe out the District’s legal marijuana dispensaries.

Cheh and McDuffie went on to state that given the “benefits that regulated and safe legal dispensaries provide to medical marijuana users in the District, it is vital that the industry survive until the District can stand up a regulated recreational market and transition toward full regulation of recreational marijuana products.”

The council members noted that Washington, D.C.’s permitted medical marijuana dispensaries face stiff competition from the city’s gray market for cannabis, which takes advantage of recreational cannabis decriminalization loopholes to operate with virtual impunity. A popular way to make money is by selling cheap merchandise and giving away cannabis.

“Savvy business owners have pushed the legal limits on the gifting industry,” McDuffie said ahead of the vote. “I’ve had medical dispensaries that have reached out to me and my staff and say that if we don’t pass this measure, it could put their businesses into jeopardy.”

Although cannabis possession has been legalized in the state since 2014’s ballot initiative, the federal government is blocking the legislation to allow recreational marijuana retailers. At Tuesday’s meeting, Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said that he would still like to see additional legislation that targets Washington D.C.’s cannabis gifting shops, noting that the business will be vital infrastructure for a potential legalized adult-use cannabis market.

“It’s not an equal playing field and will never be as long as there are illegal cannabis gifting shops,” he said. “As long as there are these businesses, the legal industry won’t be there to step in [when legalization happens].”

On Tuesday, the council approved the ordinance unanimously. Now, the bill will be sent to Muriel bowser at her office for consideration. According to media reports, Bowser stated that she supports the legislation in a Tuesday letter to the council.