Washington DC Medical Marijuana Program ‘Stuck in the Mud,’ Dispensaries & Growers in Limbo

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After numerous delays and setbacks, Washington DC’s medical marijuana program made significant strides last spring when the city selected six cultivation and four dispensary finalists to move forward in the permitting process.

But the progress ended there and almost nothing has happened since, leaving the fledgling medical cannabis industry in the lurch. Local officials reportedly met with the finalists months ago. However, none of those entrepreneurs have received a permit yet, and it doesn’t appear that any are even close.

“The best way to describe the situation is that everything’s really stuck in the mud,” said Jason Klein, a medical marijuana attorney in the District. “I’m not optimistic. It’s  not looking good at this point.”

In some areas of the country, strong resistance by public officials has held up MMJ programs (see: Arizona). In others, like New Jersey, the program has become bogged down by procedural and technical issues. In DC, however, the medical marijuana program just seems to have fallen completely off the map. Local officials haven’t addressed the issue in months or informed would-be dispensaries and growers what’s next, and the health department – which is supposed to oversee the program – inexplicably took down its medical marijuana page.

“There’s a lot of scrutiny on the District, and it seems we’ve lost all momentum and no one wants to touch this issue with a 10-foot pole,” Klein said. “The longer it takes, the more I  fear it will never go forward.”

Several factors are at work. Washington DC Mayor Vincent Gray is under federal investigation, which reportedly has brought a lot of city business to a standstill. The head of the health department – and the main official overseeing the MMJ program – has also taken a one-year leave of absence, and the Obama administration’s crackdown on medical cannabis operations in other states has created a ton of uncertainty.

The two people charged with heading up the program for the time being told the Washingtonian in late July that they are still moving forward with medical marijuana, adding that they are encouraging everyone to “move as fast as they can” to get dispensaries up and running. For the MMJ community, it’s not fast enough.