With Sales Off to Slow Start, Calls to Ease D.C.'s Medical Marijuana Rules

October 22, 2013

In the three months that medical marijuana has been legal to purchase in the District of Columbia, sales have yet to advance beyond a trickle.

The city’s pioneering dispensaries say they are losing money; doctors remain fearful to write prescriptions; and patients with HIV or cancer who may legally obtain the drug say they have been stymied by lengthy applications and warnings that the purchases remain illegal under federal law.

Those were among the many warnings that advocates for a robust medical marijuana program ticked off Monday at a hearing, as they urged D.C. council members to relax the city’s strict medical marijuana standards.

Since the first legal purchase of medical marijuana in the District in late July, 59 patients, or fewer than one per day, have had their names added to the list of those legally registered to buy it, said Feseha Woldu, senior deputy director of the Health Regulation and Licensing Administration.

Just over half of those have HIV/AIDS. And the patients come from all corners of the city, with Ward 6 having the largest share, at 20 percent, and Ward 5 having the smallest, with 5 percent. Three quarters of the patients are male, Woldu said.

The figures, released Monday in a hearing before the council’s health committee, formed the basis for repeated pleas by advocates and residents to relax the rules.

For starters, advocates said the city needs to do a better job training and clearing up misconceptions for doctors about prescribing marijuana. The city should also expand the list of chronic or terminal illnesses that qualify for legal cannabis use, they said.

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