Washington DC Marijuana Program Kicks Into High Gear as Officials Announce Dispensary Finalists

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The budding medical cannabis industry in Washington DC has taken a big step forward this week, with health officials approving their first marijuana dispensary applications.

The individuals and groups behind four proposed dispensaries – Herbal Alternatives, Metropolitan Wellness Center Corporation, Tacoma Wellness Center Inc. and VentureForth LLC – are now eligible to register with the District’s MMJ program. The move essentially clears the way for them to obtain final approvals and permits that will allow them to distribute marijuana for medical purposes.

Here’s why this is so important:

#1. It marks a significant milestone for a medical marijuana program that has been bogged down for years by delays, litigation and political foot-dragging. At times, the future of the whole dispensary program was in doubt. Those interested in capitalizing on potential business opportunities have had to remain in a holding pattern for quite some time. Now, however, local officials seem committed to moving forward, and the dispensary program is on the fast track.

#2. The selection of dispensary operators will galvanize the MMJ industry, allowing medical marijuana centers to open as early as August (but probably later in the year). That will in turn create a viable market for other businesses that want to get in on the action, such as vendors and suppliers.

#3. It’s a hugely symbolic victory for the MMJ movement that highlights the hypocrisy of U.S. laws regarding medical marijuana. While the Obama administration continues its crackdown on medical marijuana businesses in California and other Western states, politicians and officials in DC are actually approving new dispensaries. In several months, as many as five dispensaries could be operating in the nation’s capital – despite the fact that federal law bans such operations. This puts the current administration in an extremely awkward position and could make it harder to justify the crackdown going forward.

#4. It could help convince lawmakers and voters in other states to back MMJ proposals. In New Hampshire, for instance, a medical marijuana bill has cleared both the House and the Senate, but the governor has already indicated he will veto it. To override the veto, supporters in the Senate need to sway two lawmakers who voted against the measure. They can use DC as an example in their efforts to persuade their peers to switch positions on the issue.