Washington, DC: Congress Won’t Overturn District’s New Marijuana Dispensary Law

Washington, DC: Members of Congress have declined to overrule legislation passed by the D.C. City Council in May authorizing the establishment of regulated medical marijuana dispensaries in the District of Columbia.

Congressional lawmakers had up to 30 working days to reject the law. That review period officially ended earlier this week.

In June, a pair of Republican House members, Reps. Jason Chaffetz (Utah) and Jim Jordan (Ohio) introduced legislation to overturn D.C.’s medical marijuana law, stating, “Marijuana is a psychotropic drug classified under Schedule I of the federal Controlled Substances Act as having ‘high potential for abuse,’ ‘no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States,’ and a ‘lack of accepted safety for use of the drug…under medical supervision.'”

Their effort failed to gain any significant support in Congress.

Under the new law, D.C. Health Department officials will oversee the creation of up to eight facilities to dispense medical cannabis to authorized patients. Medical dispensaries would be limited to growing no more than 95 plants on site at any one time.

Both non-profit and for-profit organizations will be eligible to operate the dispensaries.

Qualifying D.C. patients will be able to obtain medical cannabis at these facilities, but will not be permitted under the law to grow their own medicine.

A separate provision enacted as part of the 2011 D.C. budget calls for the retail sales of medical cannabis to be subject to the District’s six percent sales tax rate. Low-income patients will be allowed to purchase medical marijuana at a greatly reduced cost under the plan.

It will likely be several months before Health officials begin accepting applications from the public to operate the City’s medical marijuana production and distribution centers.

The newly enacted legislation amends Initiative 59 – a 1998 D.C. medical marijuana ballot measure that garnered 69 percent of the vote. City lawmakers had been barred from instituting the measure because of a Congressional ban prohibiting District officials from liberalizing municipal marijuana laws. Congress finally lifted the ban in 2009.

For more information, please contact Allen St. Pierre, NORML Executive Director, or Keith Stroup, NORML Legal Counsel, at (202) 483-5500. A more detailed summary of the law is available online at: http://www.norml.org/index.cfm?Group_ID=3391.