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Controversy over D.C. medical cannabis dispensary near school leads to first ever ABCA cannabis protest hearing

The medical cannabis dispensary applying for a license in D.C. within 300 ft of BASIS Charter School stated its case to the Alcohol Beverage and Cannabis Administration Board on Wednesday. 

It was the first protest hearing for a medical cannabis business in D.C.’s history. All of the half dozen established medical dispensaries and current transitioning unlicensed dispensaries have been able to reach settlement agreements even if neighborhood associations first protested them. 

Another transitioned dispensary in the Palisades has sparked controversy due to its proximity to a daycare and two other schools, but the ANC settled with the business earlier this year. 12 settlement agreements have been reached in the past few months between ANC’s and other unlicensed dispensaries that applied to transition into the legal market. 

Despite multiple meetings and attempts to settle the ANC’s protest with DC Smoke, the business and the ANC were unsuccessful in reaching an agreement thus leading to ABC’s first cannabis business protest hearing which lasted six hours. 

The ANC protested the license for DC Smoke based on its proximity to BASIS DC as well as Templeton Academy DC. There is also a childcare facility nearby. Only BASIS showed up on the zoning map provided by the city to DC Smoke during its application process. 

DC Smoke was approved by ABCA to locate at 717 D St NW due to part of the Medical Cannabis Amendment Act of 2022 which allowed unlicensed operators who transition to the legal market to apply for business locations in mixed commercial zones closer to schools than 300 ft. 

Normally a D.C. medical dispensary would only be allowed outside of 300 ft radius from a school. But the exception has raised the hackles of a vocal portion of parents in the Palisades and Penn Quarter. But the law is not on their side as it is currently written. 

“This protest is truly a political agenda, led by concerned parents of nearby schools and daycare centers who have no standing in this proceeding and have a gripe over the status of the law,” John McGowan, who represents DC Smoke, said in the hearing. 

Michael Shankle, Chairman of ANC-2C, asked for the board to deny the license outright due to the “inappropriateness” of the location. “The proximity of the medical marijuana dispensary to the school raises legitimate concerns,” Shankle argued. He made clear that there was no issue with medical cannabis itself, just the proximity of DC Smoke to schools.

Much of the protestants’ concerns centered around the school kids’ exposure to medical cannabis clients, risk of a cash business and exposure to cannabis advertisement. 

However Jason Peru, ABCA’s head enforcement officer, testified that I-71 shops are the ones that are overtly advertising. 

“The licensed dispensaries in the District, you could probably walk by most of them and not even know they are there,” Peru said. The law limits how medical dispensaries advertise. 

Tommy Moungkhounsavath, the owner of DC Smoke, testified that they chose the location for DC Smoke near BASIS DC due to its proximity to metro stations and the busyness of the commercial area. 

“We’re willing to comply at every level to make sure that children and just the neighborhood in general is okay with us being there,” Moungkhounsavath said.

However, multiple witnesses representing the schools cited further costs for children supervision and drug education as well as safety concerns. Lawyers for DC Smoke labeled the protestants’ safety concerns as speculation and not based in fact.  

The protesting witnesses conflated unlicensed shops with current medical dispensaries. None of them said they had visited a current medical facility. ABC board member, James Short encouraged them to do so to inform their perceptions and be “well educated” when talking to family or their children about medical cannabis in the District. 

Commissioner Shankle ended by asking the board: “Are we willing to experiment with children in an educational environment?” While McGowan stated that the area is highly commercial including multiple bars with adult patrons and that DC Smoke will not affect the peace and order of the area. 

The board has 75 days to make a decision on the DC Smoke Penn Quarter location. Fred Moosally, the director of ABCA said that transitioned unlicensed operators will be the only medical dispensaries to have the 300ft mixed commercial zone exception. The social equity and standard retail applicants will not be able to locate within 300 ft of a school. 

Note: Kinner & McGowan are the Publishers of the Outlaw Report. Outlaw Report is editorial independent of our publishers.

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