Just a few kilometers from the U.S. Capitol, and the seat of the U.S. government, the nation’s first franchise to sell supplies specifically for marijuana growers has opened another store. The opening of weGrow Washington D.C. coincides with the city's first steps to implement a law legalizing marijuana use to treat certain medical conditions. Medical marijuana has set off a battle between the 16 states that have passed such laws and federal law enforcement officials.
With a shovel full of potting soil weGrow ceremonially put down roots as the first store catering to medical marijuana growers in Washington.
Franchise owner Alex Wong decided to open the store after seeing his mother suffer through cancer treatment. He thinks marijuana could have relieved some of the side-effects.
“Since my mother’s passing from cancer approximately seven years ago, you know, I saw the pain and suffering that she had gone through. The inability to eat properly and take morphine. You know, why does she have to go through so much physical hardships?” asked Wong.
With stores in California, Arizona, and Washington, weGrow sells the tools, fertilizers and growing systems to bring marijuana cultivation into the mainstream. Some market experts predict medical marijuana will grow into a $9-billion industry within five years. Dhar Mann is weGrow's founder and CEO.
“Within the next couple of months we are going to be expanding within Arizona and California as well as opening new stores in Delaware, New Jersey, and Washington state,” said Mann.
WeGrow doesn’t sell marijuana, the seeds to grow it, or any of the paraphernalia used to ingest it. Federal law prohibits the cultivation, sale, or use of marijuana. Sixteen states and Washington D.C. have passed laws, however, allowing its use for ailments like anxiety, back pain, and the side-effects from HIV/AIDS and cancer medications.
Retired CIA analyst Dick Kennedy brought his dog to the store opening, to support calls to end the national ban on marijuana.
“It was very clear 40 years ago that it is a less dangerous drug than alcohol or tobacco. So prohibiting it is really not very sensible public policy,” said Kennedy.
But federal law enforcement officials have begun to crack down. This week they raided Oaksterdam University in Oakland, California, a marijuana trade school and medical dispensary. And several states and the city of Washington have delayed their dispensary programs for fear of federal prosecution.
“Our hope is that a long-term trend will be deference to the states so that they can regulate medical marijuana or marijuana for adults in whatever way they think is appropriate for the citizens of the state,” said Steve Fox, who is with the National Cannabis Industry association in Washington,
Lawmakers in five states have written a letter demanding the federal government end its assault on medical marijuana.
Despite the controversy, weGrow sees a growing market for its supplies, and plans to press forward with expansion.