Grosso's bill would increase the capacity of D.C. marijuana cultivators.
Grosso's bill would increase the capacity of D.C. marijuana cultivators.

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Both the growing and use of medical marijuana could get a boost if two D.C. Council amendments to current District law are approved. Two D.C. Council committees heard testimony today on the measures—-one that would allow for cultivators to grow more marijuana and another that would allow for a wider number of patients to receive medical marijuana prescriptions.

At-Large Councilmember David Grosso‘s Medical Marijuana Plant Cultivation Amendment Act of 2014 would allow for cultivation centers to grow up to 500 plants, up from the current limit of 95 plants. But with just three cultivators operating even though D.C. law allows for 10—-and with fewer than 400 participants in the medical marijuana program despite projections of 800 by this time—-one topic of debate was whether the city’s nascent medical pot industry even needs extra room to grow.

While Dr. Joxel Garcia, the director of the District Department of Health, argued that cultivators don’t need 500 plants, Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells defended the boost as a matter of business, not health. Grosso added, “If it were up to me, we wouldn’t even stop at 500, we would allow the businesses to decide.”

If dispensaries are allowed to expand their capacity, it could diversify the kinds of marijuana products available to patients. Vanessa West of Metropolitan Wellness Center said growers currently don’t offer edibles because of their limited number of plants, and in fact, no D.C. cultivator has applied to offer such products. However, “if the plant cap is lifted, edibles would be available in 90 days,” West said.

The less controversial of the measures, The Medical Marijuana Expansion Act of 2014, which was introduced by all 13 members of the Council, would allow for more residents into the system by giving physicians the ability to prescribe marijuana to patients who do not have one of the currently approved conditions. The current system, in which only patients suffering from a small number of conditions can access medical pot, has been criticized for excluding those who suffer from other conditions that cause chronic pain.

The one voice of dissent at the hearing was Dr. Krishna Upadhya, an assistant professor of pediatrics at John Hopkins Pediatric Specialty Clinic who brought up concerns about the use of a plant that she said has no medical benefits. She also argued that medical marijuana legislation sends the “erroneous signal to youth that marijuana is beneficial.” For now, it seems, the Council disagrees.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery