Amid Dueling Adult-Use Bills, Medicinal Cannabis Expands in D.C.

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Last year, when the Alcohol Beverage Registration Administration (ABRA) took over Washington D.C.’s medicinal cannabis program, it was framed as a step that would make commercial, regulated cannabis easier to enact once lawmakers were ready to enact it. But a recent announcement suggests ABRA has a concerted effort in expanding the medical cannabis program as well.

On March 3, it was announced by the Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) board that Washington D.C.’s medicinal cannabis program will soon be expanding. That’s due to the recent availability of five additional facility registrations for testing laboratories, cultivation centers, and a dispensary. According to an announcement from ABRA, there are two available testing laboratories eligible for any Ward except for Ward 5; two cultivation centers eligible for any Ward except for Ward 5; and one dispensary which can be registered only for Ward 3 or Ward 5.

To apply, a Letter of Intent form—a one-page document an applicant has to fill-out making clear what they are applying for and why—must be submitted. It can be submitted between 9 a.m. on March 22 and April 21 at noon.

In Maryland, there has been some talk of legalization in which adult-use and medicinal cannabis would be overseen by different organizations, maintaining the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission (MMCC) while also likely significantly reducing its power. At an MMCC meeting in January, MMCC’s Taylor Kasky noted this to the commission.

“The bill places regulation of the new adult-use industry with the newly created Alcohol and Tobacco Commission. So this bill would actually have adult-use cannabis and medical cannabis regulated separately, as MMCC would continue to regulate the medical portion,” Kasky said. “Every other state that regulates adult use and medical cannabis has the same entities, the same agency regulating both of those programs.”

In response, MMCC member Philip Cogan suggested the commission take a stand on legalization and oppose it—in part because across the country, the introduction of regulated, commercial cannabis has greatly reduced the number of medicinal dispensaries. 

The machinations of D.C.’s ABRA this month, where they intend on slightly expanding the medicinal cannabis program even as two commercial, adult-use bills have been introduced, suggests the possibility that commercial, adult-use does not have to be an existential threat to medicinal cannabis in the Mid-Atlantic. Commercial, adult-use cannabis seems more likely as both D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson introduced bills that would finally allow for a regulated cannabis industry in the District. 

Last week, The Washington City Paper published a  comparison between the two bills—Bowser’s Safe Cannabis Sales Act of 2021 and Mendelson’s Comprehensive Cannabis Legalization and Regulation Act of 2021—that is very useful, especially for those who haven’t taken the time to read the one hundred-plus pages. Washington City Paper’s Mitch Ryals suggested the Comprehensive Cannabis Legalization and Regulation Act of 2021 is more likely to be approved. 

“It’s unclear which of the marijuana legalization bills will win out, but Mendelson appears to have the edge,” Ryals wrote. “As chairman, he determines to which the committees the bills will be referred. And as chair of the Committee of the Whole, he can prioritize his own bill over Bowser’s.” 

Photo illustration by Kathy Wyche

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