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D.C. medical marijuana dispensary applicants will do well to know the peculiar political territory

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The initial elation over Congress’s finally stepping aside after many years of doing the opposite, on D.C.’s medical marijuana initiative and legislation, has been succeeded by delays; limiting medical marijuana only to HIV/AIDS, glaucoma, cancer, and "conditions characterized by severe and persistent muscle spasms, such as multiple sclerosis"; and, now, an uproar by many ward residents against growing the medical marijuana in D.C.’s Ward 5, which apparently is the region designated for the highest number of limited growing locations.

My experience defending adult entertainment and liquor selling in Washington, D.C. highlights the need for purveyors of such controversial items as medical marijuana (which has never been grown and sold legally in Washington, D.C.), adult entertainment, and liquor need to fully know the peculiar lay of the District’s social, political, legal and historical land, and to hire effective people — I said effective people, not merely people who have dealt with the system ineffectively nor mere hired hacks — who have handled the necessary landscape and have lived in D.C., if they do not know the lay of the land.

The District of Columbia is peculiar for such factors as forever, to date, being denied statehood (and, therefore, being denied full voting representation in Congress) while having many trappings and obligations of a state while also needing to run as a city, with a land and population size of a modest-sized city. D.C. is a majority African-American city that suffered customary segregation right through the 1950’s at the very least, and that now suffers second-class status to its citizens being denied voting Congressional representation. It is a densely populated place, at least in terms of there likely being a very limited number of potential medical marijuana growing sites that meet the requirement that they be at least three hundred feet from schools and recreation centers. 

A recent Ward 5 Advisory Neighborhood Committee meeting with medical marijuana-grower applicants was tense, if not an uproar — thanks to the listserve member who posted the link to this article — over such items as incomplete studies to assure that proposed growing sites are at least one football field’s distance from schools and recreation centers, unpreparedness by at least one of the applicants due to late notice of the meeting, incomplete documentation from the city’s health department in advance of the ANC meeting, and a resistance by residents against their ward’s becoming a dumping ground for medical marijuana growing when such city services as a sufficient number of parks are apparently in short supply.

The distance measurement issue could have been resolved by the applicants’ hiring competent surveyors to do the work. The paperwork issue could have been overcome by not relying solely on the health department to provide it to the ANC. The late notice issue could have been resolved by constant contact with the ANC players. The dumping ground issue is more sensitive. The medical marijuana growing applicants would have been wise to have reached out right away and early on to residents of ward(s) likely to host the most growing, and to have considered supporting a shorter buffer zone than a football field if a shorter distance was needed to spread the growing beyond mainly Ward 5.  

I strongly support marijuana legalization, and, therefore, legal medical marijuana. It sounds like the medical marijuana growing applicants have not been proactive enough towards winning over the people who will live closest to their cultivation centers. Hopefully it is not too late to rectify this public relations issue.