In Devising MMJ Program D.C. Turns To Other States

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  In Devising MMJ Program D.C. Turns To Other States

Posted by CN Staff on March 23, 2010 at 16:36:03 PT
By Ann E. Marimow, Washington Post Staff Writer 
Source: Washington Post 

Washington, D.C. -- Los Angeles imposed strict limits on medical marijuana shops this year after hundreds popped up with little government oversight. Colorado is still wrestling with how to ensure legitimate doctor-patient relationships after the number of people applying to use medical marijuana spiked dramatically in a six-month period.And in the District, elected officials are trying to avoid what they consider cautionary tales from other cities and states as they create a program that strikes a delicate balance: allowing safe access to the drug for those who need it, while avoiding the kind of abuse by recreational users that would attract a backlash from Congress.
Adding to the pressure, the D.C. Council has been inundated with calls - from a Netherlands company offering indoor growing technology and a California dispensary proposing a new franchise to the DEA asking for the latest legislative language - reminders of the need to get this right."We are not an island unto ourselves," said Council member David A. Catania (D-At Large), the leading sponsor of the legislation that is a starting point for debate this month. "We have to be careful that we don't have a system that creates more mischief than benefit."More than a decade has passed since District voters approved on a ballot initiative to legalize marijuana for medical treatment. But it was not until last December, with Democrats controlling Congress and the White House, that city lawmakers considered converting voter intent into reality. It also helped that the Obama administration had urged federal prosecutors last fall not to interfere with local medical marijuana laws.Catania's bill, backed by most of his council colleagues, proposes five retail-style dispensaries throughout the city and prevents the shops from locating near schools or youth centers. If the measure is approved, District residents with a doctor's recommendation could be able to legally purchase the drug as early as the fall. However, District officials must decide whether five is the right number of dispensaries for a city of 600,000 residents, where the seeds would be planted, what requirements to set for doctors who recommend medical marijuana, and which conditions would qualify for the treatment beyond illnesses like AIDS, cancer and multiple sclerosis. In Search of Answers  Council members are looking to the 14 states where the use of medical marijuana is legal for answers. Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access, which supports legalizing pot for medical reasons, said that once policymakers in other states have become more familiar with regulating marijuana dispensaries, it becomes a routine part of governing."It's a boring clinic, it just maybe smells different than anything you've been in before," said Sherer, a D.C. resident who uses a marijuana spray four times a day for neck spasms.In California, home to the nation's first program, medical marijuana was initially so loosely regulated - without limits on the number of dispensaries - that nearly 1,000 sprung up in Los Angeles, creating a booming business and leading elected officials to quip that there were more pot shops than Starbucks stores. However, The Los Angeles City Council responded in January, capping the number of dispensaries at 70 and placing limits on locations and employee compensation.The landscape in Colorado was transformed last summer when a state health board scrapped the patient limit for caregivers. The decision essentially remade the system from one in which patients grew their own marijuana or were supplied by caregivers into a dispensary model with scores of shops. Now, public health officials say they can't keep up with the 500 patient applications that arrive by mail each day. The number of people on the state registry has exploded from 8,900 last June, according to a health department spokesman, to an estimated 63,000 last month, and perhaps as many as 100,000, according to advocates."We're looking at the label of pot capital of the world, competing with California," said Colorado Attorney General John Suthers, who is pressing the legislature to restore the patient-caregiver limit. "It's totally out of control."Ned Calonge, the state's chief medical officer, said he is troubled by reports of doctors signing off on hundreds of forms on the fly and by the small number treating the majority of patients. As of last December, his office reported that 820 physicians had authorized medical marijuana for 15,800 patients and that of those doctors, just 15 were responsible for 73 percent of patients.Calonge is also concerned that the most common condition under which patients qualify is "severe pain," a category that he said has "no objective measurement.""Because of the vagueness of the wording and the lack of specificity in oversight, we're facing a program that has clearly expanded beyond what was envisioned," Calonge said. Importance of Rules  Matt Brown, executive director of the pro-dispensary Coloradans for Medical Marijuana Regulation, said the physician numbers are outdated and reflect the previously small pool of doctors who were comfortable even discussing the possibility of marijuana use for medical treatment. Brown cautioned that defining the relationship too narrowly would harm low-income patients, for instance, who may not have a primary care physician. Access would also be limited, advocates said, by creating an arbitrary, limited list of qualifying medical conditions."The first year or two will probably not be perfect," Brown said of the District's plans, but "if the law and regulations are written to encourage responsible patients and responsible providers, then a lot of the issues will be taken care of."The District's program is likely to resemble the highly regulated model in Oakland, Calif., which has about 400,000 residents. After a rocky start that included armed robberies and resale troubles, Oakland officials in 2004 limited the number of dispensaries to four and created a rigorous permit and annual renewal system. The process assigns points for security, financing and criminal background checks, tests an applicant's knowledge of medical marijuana laws and interviews for finalists.After the first year of stricter standards, city officials shut down two of the four dispensaries. Since then, the city has not received complaints from neighbors or other merchants, according to Barbara Killey, the recently retired assistant to the city administrator who oversaw the program.Under the District's ballot initiative, non-profit operators would be exempt from local taxes like other non-profit corporations, a plan that Killey said, "seems kind of crazy." In addition to an annual $30,000-a-year permitting fee, Oakland dispensaries pay a business tax rate that is 15 times higher than the typical rate for retailers.Oakland City Council member Rebecca Kaplan, who is considering an increase in the number of dispensaries, recommended that the District start small, though not so small that there are huge crowds."There could be such a thing as too many," Kaplan said. "But the content of the rules probably matters more than the number."Source: Washington Post (DC)Author: Ann E. Marimow, Washington Post Staff WriterPublished: Tuesday, March 23, 2010Copyright: 2010 Washington Post Contact: letters Website: URL: Medical Marijuana Archives

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Comment #6 posted by dongenero on March 24, 2010 at 12:09:38 PT
Yes indeed
Those who wish to control, fear freedom when they see it.
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Comment #5 posted by Storm Crow on March 24, 2010 at 10:31:08 PT
Remember the "Gas Wars" of the 50? Same deal! Gas stations on every corner- simply too many. Then the "Gas Wars" started, prices dropped, many gas stations went out of business and the number stabilized! I guess they have NO faith in the American economic system to adjust the numbers with supply and demand! The problem will solve itself- if they just keep their noses out of it! They'd do better to see about fixing the potholes, than regulating the pot stores! 
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Comment #4 posted by dongenero on March 24, 2010 at 08:12:53 PT
"It's totally out of control."
I would say the medical marijuana market is working completely within control of the laws of open market capitalism. And if supply is overproduced or the market is saturated, it will correct accordingly.And even so, there remain external controls and regulations on the market in California. Just not enough control for those to whom any cannabis is too much.
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Comment #3 posted by FoM on March 24, 2010 at 06:09:02 PT

D.C. in The Weeds
City leaders try to answer questions about legalizing medical marijuana.By Andy SalsmanMarch 24, 2010Washington, D.C. -- Medical marijuana users in the District may not have to go to a clinic or a doctor’s office to get their dose; they may be able to go into their backyard.D.C. Council is thinking of adding a provision to the new medical marijuana bill that would allow some users to grow plants for their own use. They’d likely be limited to two plants per home.City leaders are still ironing out a number of details about legalized medical marijuana -- a decade-old issue that just recently became relevant. Washingtonians voted to legalize marijuana back in 1998, but it wasn’t until last December that Congress approved D.C.’s 2010 budget. That allowed the District to legalize marijuana.Officials are hoping to base their program on other cities and states. Los Angeles, for example, didn’t impose strict limits on shops at first.“[We don’t want to] follow the mistakes of Los Angeles, which opened the door so wide it was tantamount to legalized pot,” Councilman Phil Mendelson told the Washington Examiner.How users get their pot remains one of the major questions in Washington. Councilman David Catania is proposing five retail-like clinics throughout the city. He wants the shops far away from schools or youth centers.That doesn’t solve other problems, like: Which doctors can prescribe medical marijuana? What conditions would qualify for a medical marijuana prescription? How will pot actually get into the city?Of the 14 states that allow medical marijuana, 13 currently allow so-called "home cultivation." Most states allow people to
cultivate five to six plants, said National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws executive director Allen St. Pierre.A couple of D.C. Council committees are taking up the issue this week. The final language of the program could be drawn up as early as next week.Copyright: 2010 Associated Press / NBC WashingtonURL:
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Comment #2 posted by Hope on March 23, 2010 at 20:14:51 PT

Well, I'm just glad
this article didn't mention Starbucks.
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Comment #1 posted by FoM on March 23, 2010 at 16:37:16 PT

Very Interesting
At least they are talking. Hopefully some good will come out of it this time.
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