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Medical Cannabis Patient Population Spikes After Washington, D.C. Allows Self-Certification

A.J. Herrington

By A.J. Herrington

August 22, 2022

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The number of medical cannabis patients in Washington, D.C. has spiked in the last month, suggesting that residents of the nation’s capital are taking advantage of a new policy that allows them to self-certify their eligibility to use cannabis medicinally. More than 1,200 people registered as medical marijuana patients in July,

from the Washington, D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA), bringing the total number of patients to 15,730.

The number of medical marijuana patients jumped by 9 percent from June to July, the largest increase so far this year, although it is not clear how many patients chose to self-certify during registration. By comparison, the number of patients grew by 403 between March and April, the next-highest monthly increase in 2022, representing a rise of 3 percent.

In June, city lawmakers proposed a new policy for Washington, D.C.’s medical marijuana program that would allow patients to self-certify their eligibility to use cannabis medicinally. Under the change introduced by Councilmembers Kenyan McDuffie and Mary Cheh, patients would no longer need a recommendation from a physician when they apply for a medical marijuana identification card. 

Supporters of the change argued that the bill will make it easier for patients to gain access to medical cannabis, particularly for those who have difficulty seeing a doctor. Out of thousands of physicians practicing medicine in the nation’s capital, only 620 have registered with the city to issue medical pot recommendations. In January, the city council passed a measure that allowed adults 65 and older to self-certify for medical cannabis card eligibility, but that ordinance expired on May 1.

The city council legalized the medical use of cannabis in 2010, followed by the decriminalization of marijuana for adults with the passage of a 2014 ballot measure. But the federal government has repeatedly interfered with the implementation of legislation that would permit regulated recreational cannabis sales.

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Ordinance Supports Medical Cannabis Dispensaries

When they proposed the patient self-certification ordinance in July, McDuffie and Cheh said that Washington, D.C.’s permitted medical marijuana dispensaries face intense competition from the city’s grey market for cannabis, which takes advantage of recreational marijuana decriminalization loopholes to operate with virtual impunity. One popular scheme features businesses who sell cheap merchandise at inflated prices and include what is ostensibly a gift of cannabis with the purchase. 

“Due to the lower barriers to access in the gray market, a significant number of medical marijuana patients have shifted from purchasing their medical marijuana from legal medical dispensaries to the illicit gray market, creating a significant risk to the long-term viability of the District’s legal medical marijuana industry,”

accompanying the emergency bill. “If this trend continues, it is possible that gray market sales could wipe out the District’s legal marijuana dispensaries.

Cheh and McDuffie added that given the “benefits that regulated and safe legal dispensaries provide to medical marijuana users in the District, it is vital that the industry survive until the District can stand up a regulated recreational market and transition toward full regulation of recreational marijuana products.”

Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser signed the ordinance allowing medical marijuana patients to self-certify their eligibility on July 6, saying that the new policy is a victory for both patients and medical cannabis providers.

“We have made it a priority over the years to build a more patient-centric medical marijuana program and this legislation builds on those efforts,”

on Wednesday. “We know that by bringing more medical marijuana patients into the legal marketplace in a timely manner and doing more to level the playing field for licensed medical marijuana providers, we can protect residents, support local businesses, and provide clarity to the community.”

“I applaud the Council for moving forward this innovative solution to a complex issue, and I look forward to working with the Council and ABRA on permanent, more comprehensive medical marijuana legislation in the future,” she added.

A.J. Herrington

About The Author

A.J. Herrington

HIGH THERE MISSION

WE’RE A CREATIVE COMMUNITY — EXPLORING THE SCIENCE, CRAFT, AND CULTURE OF CANNABIS.
WE BELIEVE THAT WE HAVE A COLLECTIVE RESPONSIBILITY TOWARDS ERADICATING THE STIGMA, MISINFORMATION, AND INEQUITIES SURROUNDING THIS PLANT, SO WE CAN UNLOCK ITS TRUE POTENTIAL FOR ALL.

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