Many consider medical marijuana to be one of the most contentious debates in health care today. Twenty states and Washington, D.C. have legalized the use of marijuana to help alleviate side effects from a number of diseases and medications. But federal law still defines it as having no medical value and being as addictive as heroin.
The Medical Marijuana Program
in the nation's capital took 12 years to legalize and more than three years to implement. But though it's now up and running,
Adam Bartley is on his way to pick up his medicine. After years of being forced to the black market, now he can do it safely and legally. “When I or any of the other patients call and make an appointment, their security greets me at the door and checks the ID’s. Both my regular government-issued ID and the ID from the department of health for the medical marijuana,” he explains.
Jeff Kahn owns this dispensary, which just opened after three years of competing for one of the city’s four dispensary permits. There's been little business so far, but Kahn is not discouraged. For him, this is a mission. “We want people to know what they’re getting, to be able to make wise choices," he said. "To be able to choose the right medicine and to be able to use it safely.”
“I have been HIV positive for 23 years and lived with AIDS for many of those. I’ve taken a great deal of medicine. Many of them cause a great deal of stomach discomfort, and lack of appetite and nausea," Bartley said.
While medical marijuana is legal here in Washington, it’s still illegal under federal law, so the city is being very careful.
“Every part of the medical marijuana program is under camera, under lock and key and fully recorded from seed to sale,” Kahn stated.
And for potential customers, getting a Medical marijuana ID is not simple.
"It requires that you contact the department of health only by e-mail. It requires that you would be able to download, print and fill out a lengthy application and provide documentation and a passport photo. There’s a $100 application fee,” Bartley explained.
But before any of that you have to have cancer, HIV, AIDS, glaucoma or severe muscle spasms to even qualify. And a doctor has to fill out another lengthy form, recommending you. Sakiliba Mines is one of the few doctors in the city who write recommendations. But she says she was initially cautious. “We cannot reproduce what’s going on in other states where doctors all they do is write recommendations and the patient is out of the door for the year," she added. "I don’t think that’s good medicine.”
Dr. Robert DuPont has advised several administrations on the issue. He said it would make more sense to refine marijuana into medication instead of smoking it. But he is fine with the way the city is handling its program.
“I think a limited program that insures that people are really ill and that they’ve tried other treatments and it gives them an amount of marijuana that is reasonable for them to have and not sell to other people or give away is a very good political resolution,” said DuPont.
Right now, only 28 patients have qualified for the program, and that’s not really enough to support the system yet.
Today’s dose, 10.5 grams, costs about $200. And none of it is covered by insurance. But Bartley is happy to support the local economy -- and get his marijuana through legal means.