Liquor regulators may help oversee D.C. medical marijuana

Mike DeBonis
Washington Post

District liquor regulators will play a lead role in the city’s new medical marijuana program when it debuts Jan. 1, according to draft rules issued Friday by Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D).

Under the regulations, the city health department would be responsible for registering legal marijuana users. But the licensing and oversight of the facilities that will grow and distribute medical cannabis would be handled by the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board and its enforcement arm, the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration. The prospect of having the same regulators overseeing medical marijuana and liquor stores concerns advocates who have fought to have cannabis recognized as a medical treatment, not just as a drug for recreational use.

Last year, Congress removed a longstanding budget restriction that prevented city officials from implementing a medical-marijuana initiative that voters passed in 1998. City policymakers since have moved to create a tightly regulated system that would forestall future congressional interference.

Wayne Turner, who co-wrote the 1998 initiative, said Friday that he was glad to see the city move forward but was “completely blindsided” by the role of alcohol regulators. “Dispensaries are the front line, and the liquor board is completely inappropriate to run this program,” he said. “Are we talking about medical marijuana Jell-O shots here?”

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