CHARLIE LOWE FOR THE HOYA Capital City Care, the District’s first medical marijuana dispensary, will impose strict standards to prevent recreational use.
Capital City Care, the District’s first medical marijuana dispensary, will impose strict standards to prevent recreational use.

The District’s first medical marijuana dispensary, Capital City Care, is slated to open next month at 1334 North Capitol Street NW, two years after the D.C. Council legalized medical use of the drug.

“This will be the first time qualified patients in D.C. have legal access to this medicine. Patients interested in pursuing this treatment option will finally have a safe and reliable way to do so,” the dispensary’s Communications Director, Scott Morgan, wrote in an email.

The dispensary’s services will be offered exclusively to patients suffering from verifiable chronic illnesses, including HIV/AIDS, cancer, glaucoma, severe muscle spasm conditions such as multiple sclerosis, or those undergoing medical treatments such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy or the use of protease inhibitors, according to Morgan.

These limited access policies will make Capital City Care among the most stringent distributors in the nation, according to local ABC affiliate WJLA. The dispensary will have security cameras and biometric locks to deter theft, and customers will be asked to present IDs issued by the Department of Health upon entering the store. Patients will also be limited to purchasing two ounces per visit.

The business model envisioned by Capital City Care contrasts sharply with those of dispensaries in states such as Colorado that have garnered a reputation of providing a legal channel for recreational users to have access to the drug.

“We want to build a program in D.C. that can serve a national example and that requires taking great care throughout every step of the process,” Morgan said.

City officials also contend that the District’s regulations are stricter compared to those in other states.

“This will not be the kind of setup like they have in California where doctors will just see you and write medical marijuana prescriptions,” Department of Health attorney Carla Williams said at a town hall meeting last year.

This stringency could potentially lessen the stigma associated with medical marijuana and allow further research into the medical and social effects of legalization.

“I think it’s a social experiment,” James Giordano, professor of biochemistry and chief of the NeuroethicsStudies Program at the Georgetown University Medical Center said. “It will be very important to use this dispensary as a ‘living laboratory’ to determine what works, what doesn’t and why. We can then adapt in such a way as to more effectively meet the demands of patients and also to operate ethically within the scope of the law.”

Marijuana Policy Project, a lobbying organization working towards the legalization of marijuana, was supportive of the launch of Capital City Care.

“Medical marijuana dispensaries will provide seriously ill patients with legal, safe and consistent access to their medicine,” MPP Communications Director Mason Tvert said. “They will no longer be forced to seek out marijuana in the underground market, and they will actually know what they are getting.”

The drug has gained popularity in recent years for its ability to alleviate symptoms associated with serious illnesses and is seen by many in the medical community as a viable treatment option, particularly for patients who have not responded to other forms of treatment.

“Marijuana is a politically charged issue, but if you take away the politics, it is just a pharmacologically active botanical medicine,” Adriane Fugh-Berman, professor of pharmacology at the Georgetown University School of Medicine, wrote in an email. “Marijuana can be helpful for cancer patients by increasing appetite and curbing nausea and has other therapeutic effects, including helping reduce spasm in multiple sclerosis and helping to treat glaucoma.”

Some medical professionals, however, remain skeptical about the benefits of the drug.

“I fear the hype surpasses any real benefit,” Thomas Sherman, professor of pharmacology at the Georgetown University School of Medicine, wrote in an email. “In terms of hard science, there is little evidence to support marijuana as a medicine, especially when smoked.”

Nevertheless, Sherman supported the dispensary’s opening, saying that he thinks it will do more good than harm until further clinical trials can be conducted.

Capital City Care’s opening comes two years after the D.C. Council legalized medical marijuana. According to MPP Communications Manager Morgan Fox, the council’s desire to reconcile District regulations with federal ones accounted for the delay in the dispensary’s opening.

Marijuana, whether medical or recreational, remains illegal under federal law. Although an early Obama Administration memo indicated that the president would not take action to shut down medical marijuana dispensaries if they complied with state law, the president began cracking down on dispensaries in 2011.

The Obama Administration has not indicated how it will react to a dispensary opening in its backyard.

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