The Pot Industry’s Most Politically Important Dispensary

In the eyes of the federal government, there is no such thing as “medical marijuana.” But there’s a dispensary just blocks from the Capitol.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., second from left, talks while Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., right, dispensary president Mike Cuthriell, Left, and medical marijuana cultivator Corey Barnette, second from the right, listen at the soon-to-open medical marijuana dispensary, Metropolitan Wellness Center, in the Eastern Market neighborhood of Washington, D.C.
National Journal
Ben Terris
March 21, 2013, 7:10 a.m.

Earli­er this week, Reps. Jared Pol­is and Earl Blumenauer vis­ited a marijuana dis­pens­ary.

They were just blocks away from their con­gres­sion­al of­fices, and with­in months, cer­tain D.C. res­id­ents will be able to come here to leg­ally choose from more than a dozen strains of med­ic­al marijuana, from Mas­ter Kush to Blue Dream. The walls will be packed with va­por­izers, wa­ter pipes, and pre-rolled joints. There will be THC lol­li­pops, baked goods, and cook­books.

But for now, all the law­makers could see was an empty dis­play case and a met­al scale. Un­til the Met­ro­pol­it­an Well­ness Cen­ter opens — sup­posedly with­in the next couple months — the pair of Demo­crats will have to use their ima­gin­a­tions.

“My cam­paign headquar­ters last sum­mer, we shared [a build­ing] with a dis­pens­ary,” Pol­is told Blumenauer in front of a half-dozen Hill staffers, marijuana ad­voc­ates, and cen­ter em­ploy­ees gathered in the al­most com­pletely bar­ren shop room. “You could see the sign, it was like: “˜Marijuana, Jared Pol­is.’ Marijuana out­per­formed me by 10 points, so it was a great as­so­ci­ation for me.”

Pol­is of Col­or­ado and Blumenauer of Ore­gon — two law­makers fight­ing to end the fed­er­al pro­hib­i­tion of pot — hadn’t come to this un­marked shop above the East­ern Mar­ket Popeye’s to buy product. They had come to this dis­pens­ary be­cause just blocks away from the Cap­it­ol, it may soon be­come one of the most polit­ic­ally im­port­ant marijuana dis­tri­bu­tion cen­ters in the coun­try.

{{ BIZOBJ (photo: 27348) }}

“I’ve talked to people all over the coun­try about marijuana,” said Corey Barnette, a prin­cip­al at Dis­trict Grow­ers, the cul­tiv­a­tion fa­cil­ity that will ser­vice the cen­ter. “Every­one is highly fo­cused on what hap­pens in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. We are a city on top of the feds, and with Con­gress right here. If we can make it work, it can work any­where.”

Last year, Pol­is’s home state of Col­or­ado, along with the state of Wash­ing­ton, be­came the first states to leg­al­ize marijuana for re­cre­ation­al use. Places around the coun­try have been loosen­ing their laws, and just this week Mary­land voted to de­crim­in­al­ize small amounts of weed.

But, re­gard­less of what in­di­vidu­al states do, the use or cul­tiv­a­tion of marijuana re­mains a fed­er­al crime un­der the Con­trolled Sub­stance Act. This means that even if state law en­force­ment al­lows for use of the drug, fed­er­al of­fi­cials do not. In the eyes of the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment, there is no such thing as “med­ic­al marijuana.”

This is where Pol­is and Blumenauer come in. The duo has dropped a series of bills to end the fed­er­al pro­hib­i­tion on the drug, im­pose fed­er­al tax on sale of leg­al pot, and pro­tect the rights of pa­tients us­ing med­ic­al marijuana. At this point, es­pe­cially in a Re­pub­lic­an-run House of Rep­res­ent­at­ives, these bills have an up­ward climb to­ward be­com­ing law. But the way things have been shift­ing, that could change rap­idly.

In this sense, the con­gress­men and the dis­pens­ary can help each oth­er out. Dis­trict pot sellers need the pro­tec­tion of a fed­er­al law, and the con­gress­men could use a place to show to their skep­tic­al col­leagues what it really looks like and it’s im­pact on a com­munity.

While Con­gress may be filled with skep­tics, marijuana has surged in pop­ular­ity around the coun­try. In  the 1980s, only about 30 per­cent of Amer­ic­ans thought marijuana should be leg­al. By 2011, half of Amer­ic­ans thought it should be leg­al­ized. Today, 70 per­cent of Amer­ic­ans think doc­tors should be able to pre­scribe marijuana to al­le­vi­ate pain and suf­fer­ing. Ad­voc­ates hope that a dis­pens­ary right in the na­tion’s cap­it­al could be a wa­ter­shed mo­ment in the marijuana-re­form move­ment.

“It’s a very dif­fer­ent dis­cus­sion when you talk with mem­bers who have med­ic­al or leg­al sale of marijuana in their dis­trict versus those who don’t,” Pol­is told Na­tion­al Journ­al in an in­ter­view later at the Cap­it­ol. “It’s ex­tremely hy­po­thet­ic­al for mem­bers who have nev­er seen a dis­pens­ary. This can bring it a little closer to them by let­ting them know how it really works.”

This re­spons­ib­il­ity is not lost on any­one. Per­haps that’s why there are still no dis­pens­ar­ies op­er­at­ing in the Dis­trict, even though it’s been 14 years since the city voted to leg­al­ize med­ic­al marijuana. Most of the wait can be blamed on Con­gress, which blocked fund­ing for the pro­gram un­til 2009. The rest of the time can be chalked up to a bur­den­some reg­u­lat­ory pro­cess that ad­voc­ates say will make the Dis­trict’s pro­gram one of the most re­strict­ive in the coun­try: You can’t grow where you sell; there can only be five dis­pens­ar­ies and a max­im­um of 10 grow­ing cen­ters in the city; grow­ers can only grow a max­im­um of 95 plants; and only D.C. res­id­ents are eli­gible to pur­chase. And even those who ad­here to these reg­u­la­tions have plenty of cause for con­cern.

“Every single day we have to worry: Will the feds come down on this pro­gram simply be­cause they don’t want to see it work?” Barnette said. “That could hap­pen.”

If the goal is to show law­makers what a le­git­im­ate marijuana busi­ness can look like, this is the place.

For one thing, it looks bor­ing. Dis­trict rules state that there be no signs ad­vert­ising the sale of marijuana. To get in, vis­it­ors will pass through an un­marked door, past a se­cur­ity guard, in­to a wait­ing room. The sales­room isn’t much dif­fer­ent. But if Pol­is and Blumenauer want their col­leagues to see the in­side, they need to act quickly. Once the Met­ro­pol­it­an Well­ness Cen­ter is op­er­a­tion­al, it will only be open to those with­in the sys­tem. Mike Cu­thri­ell, the cen­ter’s pres­id­ent, says that even the build­ing’s land­lord will not be al­lowed in once they start selling.

Though not yet able to dis­pense pot, the cen­ter’s staff had plenty of in­form­a­tion to give out to vis­it­ors. Blumenauer and Pol­is peppered the staff with ques­tions about how quickly they could ramp up (the grow­ers could be at full ca­pa­city with 75 days of start­ing to grow), how much per week they could grow (between 25 and 40 pounds), wheth­er they had soph­ist­ic­ated strains for dif­fer­ent ail­ments (they are work­ing on it), and what the cost would be like com­pared to the black mar­ket (should be cheap­er).

“My only source for how cheap it is on the black mar­ket comes from Pri­ceof­weed.com,” Cu­thri­ell said.

“I won­der how much that do­main cost?” Blumenauer said, rais­ing his eye­brows and chuck­ling. Des­pite there not be­ing any drugs on the premises, be­ing here seemed to have giv­en the law­makers something of a con­tact high by the end of the tour, as they star­ted to loosen up and crack jokes.

“A lot of Hill staff live here, you’ll prob­ably even have some as pa­tients,” Pol­is said.

“Yeah, giv­en the chron­ic pain we give them,” Blumenauer chimed in. “Naus­ea maybe? The rules are prob­ably too tight for them to qual­i­fy.”

What We're Following See More »
STAFF PICKS
When It Comes to Mining Asteroids, Technology Is Only the First Problem
14 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

Foreign Policy takes a look at the future of mining the estimated "100,000 near-Earth objects—including asteroids and comets—in the neighborhood of our planet. Some of these NEOs, as they’re called, are small. Others are substantial and potentially packed full of water and various important minerals, such as nickel, cobalt, and iron. One day, advocates believe, those objects will be tapped by variations on the equipment used in the coal mines of Kentucky or in the diamond mines of Africa. And for immense gain: According to industry experts, the contents of a single asteroid could be worth trillions of dollars." But the technology to get us there is only the first step. Experts say "a multinational body might emerge" to manage rights to NEOs, as well as a body of law, including an international court.

Source:
STAFF PICKS
Obama Reflects on His Economic Record
15 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

Not to be outdone by Jeffrey Goldberg's recent piece in The Atlantic about President Obama's foreign policy, the New York Times Magazine checks in with a longread on the president's economic legacy. In it, Obama is cognizant that the economic reality--73 straight months of growth--isn't matched by public perceptions. Some of that, he says, is due to a constant drumbeat from the right that "that denies any progress." But he also accepts some blame himself. “I mean, the truth of the matter is that if we had been able to more effectively communicate all the steps we had taken to the swing voter,” he said, “then we might have maintained a majority in the House or the Senate.”

Source:
STAFF PICKS
Reagan Families, Allies Lash Out at Will Ferrell
16 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

Ronald Reagan's children and political allies took to the media and Twitter this week to chide funnyman Will Ferrell for his plans to play a dementia-addled Reagan in his second term in a new comedy entitled Reagan. In an open letter, Reagan's daughter Patti Davis tells Ferrell, who's also a producer on the movie, “Perhaps for your comedy you would like to visit some dementia facilities. I have—I didn’t find anything comedic there, and my hope would be that if you’re a decent human being, you wouldn’t either.” Michael Reagan, the president's son, tweeted, "What an Outrag....Alzheimers is not joke...It kills..You should be ashamed all of you." And former Rep. Joe Walsh called it an example of "Hollywood taking a shot at conservatives again."

Source:
PEAK CONFIDENCE
Clinton No Longer Running Primary Ads
19 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

In a sign that she’s ready to put a longer-than-ex­pec­ted primary battle be­hind her, former Sec­ret­ary of State Hil­lary Clin­ton (D) is no longer go­ing on the air in up­com­ing primary states. “Team Clin­ton hasn’t spent a single cent in … Cali­for­nia, In­di­ana, Ken­tucky, Ore­gon and West Vir­gin­ia, while” Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) “cam­paign has spent a little more than $1 mil­lion in those same states.” Meanwhile, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Sanders’ "lone back­er in the Sen­ate, said the can­did­ate should end his pres­id­en­tial cam­paign if he’s los­ing to Hil­lary Clin­ton after the primary sea­son con­cludes in June, break­ing sharply with the can­did­ate who is vow­ing to take his in­sur­gent bid to the party con­ven­tion in Phil­adelphia.”

Source:
CITIZENS UNITED PT. 2?
Movie Based on ‘Clinton Cash’ to Debut at Cannes
20 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

The team behind the bestselling "Clinton Cash"—author Peter Schweizer and Breitbart's Stephen Bannon—is turning the book into a movie that will have its U.S. premiere just before the Democratic National Convention this summer. The film will get its global debut "next month in Cannes, France, during the Cannes Film Festival. (The movie is not a part of the festival, but will be shown at a screening arranged for distributors)." Bloomberg has a trailer up, pointing out that it's "less Ken Burns than Jerry Bruckheimer, featuring blood-drenched money, radical madrassas, and ominous footage of the Clintons."

Source:
×