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Mayor Adrian Fenty‘s  administration sparked some heady debate when it announced plans this past summer to put city liquor regulators—not health officials—in charge of medical marijuana distribution in the District.

Oh, sure, patients and doctors would register with the Department of Health, but the growers and sellers would instead be subject to the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Board and its administrative arm, the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA), just as if your neighborhood dispensary were a bar; call it a hash bar for the sick. It seemed an unusual approach, somewhat unique among the many other states regulating medical cannabis, but practical, as the existing ABC Board/ABRA apparatus has extensive experience vetting the venues that distribute a controlled substance to qualified consumers.

Supporters espousing marijuana’s legitimacy as medicine, however, balked at the idea. In an Aug. 15 letter to the Post, Wayne Turner, sponsor of D.C.’s original 1998 medical marijuana ballot initiative, fumed, “Having the [Alcoholic Beverage Control] Board in charge bolsters the false accusation that D.C.’s medical marijuana effort is not about helping patients but is instead a ‘stalking horse’ for the legalization of recreational marijuana.”

The controversy appears to have prompted a few tweaks to the city’s pot planning. Revised rules published in the D.C. Register today bear no mention of the ABC Board or ABRA. The booze police, it seems, have been written out of the program entirely.

In fact, the word “alcohol” appears just once in the entire 87-page rulemaking:

5402.5             A registration application for a cultivation center or dispensary shall not be approved for any location that also sells alcoholic beverages.

In place of the liquor authorities, the mayor will appoint a new hearing board “to conduct registration, licensing, and enforcement proceedings involving cultivation centers and dispensaries.”

Just like the ABC Board, it would seem. Only called something different. And with all new members—because what’s the point of passing new laws if you can’t build a whole new bureaucracy to go along with them?

5401.2 A four member panel shall be convened consisting of one representative from the Department [of Health], MPD, OAG, and a staff person designated by the Board to evaluate and score each application.

Photo by Coaster420/Creative Commons Attribution License