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Medical Marijuana Dispensaries To Open Their Doors In Washington, D.C. This Month

First Posted: May 13, 2013 10:08 PM EDT
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Medical marijuana dispensaries are slated to open their doors later this month in the nation's capital, with some locations within walking distance to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and other major federal government agency headquarters.

Marijuana is still considered a Schedule 1 illegal substance and as such has been deemed to have a high potential for abuse and little or no known medical benefits, thanks to the Controlled Substance Act of 1970. However, although marijuana is still federally outlawed, authorities at the state level have been pushing for and gaining legal acceptance for medicinal use of the plant.

"The fact that the District of Columbia can pass it legally, and the District of Columbia is in the land of the federal government...is a contradiction and it speaks to the fact that federal law needs to sort of get on board with what more states are saying," said Vanessa West, general manager of Metropolitan Wellness Center, one of three medicinal marijuana dispensaries that are readying themselves to open their doors in D.C. in the coming weeks.

The Metropolitan Wellness Center along with the Takoma Wellness Center are still awaiting their licenses to distribute medicinal marijuana, while Capital City Care is the first to have already obtained its license on April 22nd.

Once these three centers open up for business, registered patients who are eligible to receive the drug will have available to them various strains of marijuana specific to their illnesses, paraphernalia including bongs, bowls and rolling papers as well as drinks and baked goods like cookies and brownies with marijuana baked into them.

"When we find out what a patient's symptoms are, we can make a recommendation about what the best strain is for them and what the best possible route for ingesting that strain is," West told ABC News in an interview.

And while in states like California where the regulations regarding obtaining and selling medicinal marijuana are notably loose, with doctors freely prescribing for almost any ailment a patient complains of, the regulations in D.C. will be extremely strict.

To begin with, the only people eligible for access to the drug are those with one of the very few qualifying diseases, which include AIDS/HIV, cancer, glaucoma or multiple sclerosis. 

Then, a doctor must agree to formally recommend marijuana as the most suitable form of treatment for a patient's illness and each recommendation must be individually certified by the Department of Health. The patient must also submit an application and pay a $100 registration fee for a photo ID card, which will be mandatory for entrance to the dispensaries. Additionally, patients are only allowed to visit one dispensary to obtain their marijuana and are allowed a maximum of two ounces per month.

"It's a pretty difficult process, but it sort of needs to be," West said. "You don't want to create a free-for-all."

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