Opening of D.C. medical marijuana dispensaries delayed

Local,DC,Eric P. Newcomer,Marion Barry,Vincent Gray,Tommy Wells

D.C. marijuana dispensaries thought they'd be open a month ago, but a slow-moving District Department of Health still needs to give doctors the authority to recommend marijuana to their patients.

"If you drove by now you'd see the signs are up and everything is ready -- except the doors are locked," said Rabbi Jeff Kahn, owner of the Takoma Wellness Center on Blair Road in Northwest Washington.

Two marijuana dispensaries and three cultivation centers have been approved by the District.

Kahn has rented the property since April 2011 and said it's been fully ready to go since the beginning of May.

"It's been a very long experience, and it is kind of frustrating," he said. "We're still getting over the fact that it didn't happen in May. We certainly think it's going to be the beginning of June."

So if you are suffering from Crohn's disease or one of the other illnesses that qualify a patient for medical marijuana use, you're going to have to wait a bit longer.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said marijuana dispensaries would likely open in the middle of June.

"I believe the executive has been slow on just about everything," said Ward 6 Councilman Tommy Wells. "I don't want to over-politicize this, but my general feeling is there just has been molasses poured over the government -- it's not just this."

Wells, who is running for mayor, is also working with Ward 8 Councilman Marion Barry to draft legislation to decriminalize marijuana.

The mayor's office said it is merely trying to thoughtfully address how it handles marijuana in the District.

"We prefer to get things right rather than rush for appearance's sake," Pedro Ribeiro, Mayor Vincent Gray's spokesman, wrote in an email. "The mayor has repeatedly said we need to get this program up and running properly, before we consider moving beyond it."

The Department of Health said it still needs to approve doctors who can recommend marijuana to patients in the District before dispensaries can open.

For his part, Kahn said he had talked to doctors who had requested forms to apply for the certification, but had not received them yet.

A spokeswoman for the health department on Friday said doctors had received applications.

The District's medical marijuana laws limits the amount of marijuana that cultivators can grow and restricts the number of dispensaries that can sell it. Adam Bierman, president of the medical marijuana consulting company Medmen, said the District regulations will severely restrict the business in D.C.

"I don't see how it will ever actually take any real foothold until there are some updates," he said.

The District approved medical marijuana with a referendum in 1998. Twelve years later, the D.C. Council approved legislation meant to move ahead the implementation of medical marijuana.

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