After 15 years of waiting, qualified D.C. residents can now legally purchase medical marijuana. The city’s first sale was made Monday night to a 51-year-old, HIV-positive Northwest resident at the Capital City Care dispensary. Regulated dispensaries have been in the works since the D.C. Council passed legislation approving them in May 2010, but the initiative dates back to 1998, when 69 percent of District voters approved a ballot referendum to legalize medical marijuana.

California was the only state to have legalized medical weed at the time of the November 1998 referendum, but Congress kept the drug banned in the District until it lifted its restrictions in 2009. During the decade-and-a-half it has taken to turn D.C.’s voter approval of medical marijuana into tangible dispensaries and sales, 18 states have legalized the drug for medical use, most recently New Hampshire last week (Maryland will be the 20th overall when its legislation goes into effect in October). In addition, Colorado and Washington state legalized recreational marijuana use for adults last year.

It remains to be seen whether the federal government, which still classifies marijuana as an illegal Schedule I drug, will attempt to disrupt sales at Capital City Care and two other planned D.C. dispensaries. Federal raids have been conducted on legal medical marijuana dispensaries as recently as last Wednesday in Washington state. For now, though, qualified patients can apply for a medical marijuana card through their doctor and, pending approval, legally toke up.

Medical marijuana photo via Shutterstock