First 3 Washington DC Marijuana Dispensaries Open, But Initial Market Size is Miniscule

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The first dispensaries have finally opened their doors in the nation’s capital, jump-starting a new MMJ market and representing a symbolic step forward for an industry that is still deemed illegal on a federal level.

Capital City Care launched yesterday in the eastern part of the downtown core, becoming the first dispensary to sell medical cannabis to registered patients under the city’s MMJ laws.

Takoma Wellness Center north of downtown opened today by appointment only, according to the dispensary’s owner, Rabbi Jeffrey Kahn. The third dispensary to receive a license – Metropolitan Wellness Center, located in the southeast part of downtown – posted on its Facebook page this morning that it is now officially open as well.

The opening of dispensaries in the nation’s capital – just miles from the main federal agencies that have been cracking down on MMJ operations in other states – highlights the irony of US medical marijuana policies and laws. The feds seem more out of touch with the rest of the nation on medical marijuana issues by the day, with polls showing overwhelming support for MMJ and, now, dispensaries opening in their backyard.

Washington DC joins a dozen other states that have active dispensaries. Several more states with medical cannabis laws – including Connecticut, Massachusetts, Nevada and New Hampshire – are gearing up to welcome dispensaries in the coming years, and more will likely legalize MMJ and dispensaries as well.

In terms of market size, Washington DC is tiny. Just nine patients have received cards from the Health Department, reflecting the extremely limited list of qualifying medical conditions and some initial delays with the city’s MMJ program. Sales will be small at first given the limited patient base. But they could eventually hit $1 million to $3 million once the program matures and more patients sign up, according to estimates in the Marijuana Business Factbook.

In other medical cannabis states, the first dispensaries that opened had lines around the block and packed appointment schedules. In Washington DC, however, the first dispensaries are handling just a handful of patients. Capital City Care, for instance, reportedly had just two customers yesterday, while Takoma Wellness had one scheduled appointment for today.

“We hope that since this is actually happening now, people will begin to apply” for patient cards, Kahn of Takoma Wellness said. “Our regulating agency, the DC Department of Health, promises to process applications quickly. Docs are just starting to write recommendations.”

Patients have to register with a particular dispensary, and at this point it appears that the nine who have cards so far are evenly divided between the first three centers.

“That is pretty much what we have expected all along,” Kahn said. “So nine isn’t scary for our first week’s total registration. We’ve been waiting a really long time for No. 1. If the city registers nine a week for a while, we will be thrilled. As the number of registering doctors and qualifying conditions increases, the program will continue to grow. We have always expected a small start.”

Medical marijuana supporters have been eagerly anticipating this day for years. Local voters first passed a medical marijuana legalization bill back in 1998, but Congress put the law on ice until 2009. The city then passed new regulations in 2010. Dispensaries hoped to open shortly thereafter, but numerous delays and roadblocks pushed out the time frame.

The city’s law allows for up to five dispensaries (for-profit or nonprofit) and 10 cultivation sites. Just one grow operation is open at this time, meaning the first dispensaries are all selling the same strains