D.C.: Proposed Program To Subsidize Medical Marijuana For Low-Income Patients


By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

A proposed program in the District of Columbia -- which would be the first of its kind in the nation -- would require medical marijuana dispensaries in D.C. to put aside two percent of their profits to subsidize low-income patients.

Dispensaries would give at least a 20 percent discount on marijuana to people at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level under the process, reports Celina Durgin at The Washington Times.

While dispensaries sometimes offer reduced prices to poor patients, no state has put this type of provision into medical marijuana regulations, according to Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).

"The rule is totally unprecedented in the medical marijuana community," St. Pierre said.

Medical marijuana sales in D.C. began last month at Capital City Care dispensary. Prices for marijuana seem quite expensive, at least by Pacific Northwest standards, with cannabis ranging from $380 to $440 per ounce, according to the dispensary's website.

Since poor people potentially comprise a large portion of medical marijuana patients -- especially given the fact that you must be seriously ill to qualify -- the sliding scale program is intended to improve access for them. Often, marijuana patients cannot hold full-time jobs because of the illnesses that qualify them to use cannabis, analysts say.

Medical marijuana cards issued to patients in D.C. will indicate whether they are low-income and thus eligible for discounts, according to The Washington Times.

Arizona has a sliding scale program for medical marijuana patient registration. The state normally charges $150, but that is reduced to $75 for low-income registrants. But that discount is funded by the state government, not the dispensaries, unlike the D.C. proposal.

Supporters praised the proposal for alleviating what they called "prohibition-level prices" on medical marijuana, according to Dan Riffle, legislative analyst for the D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project (MPP).

"Marijuana is overpriced because it's over-regulated, so a program for the poor is necessary," Riffle said. "There's this outdated hysteria surrounding marijuana, but it's much safer than many other medications."

It is not clear, according to the Times, when the rule, which was published in the D.C. Register last week and is in the midst of a 30-day review period, will take effect.

Dispensaries will have to reserve funds to ensure that low-income discounts they give amount to two percent of their income, under the rule. The city will audit reports from the dispensaries yearly and can adjust the percentage of profits that dispensaries have to reserve for subsidies.

The shops, however, are unsure how they would meet the new requirements. A mandate that dispensaries cover discounts up to two percent of their income could be fulfilled in several different ways, and officials haven't described how it will operate.

Also not specified are which types of marijuana the dispensaries are required to discount. D.C. dispensaries carry multiple strains, some more expensive than others.

While dispensary owners claim they "sympathize" with low-income patients, "a 20 percent discount is not insignificant," said Mike Cauthriell, president of the Metropolitan Wellness Center dispensary in D.C. Cuthriell said he believes discounts are beneficial, but said he was concerned about the ratio of low-income patients to those who are not.

"Nobody understands how this system is going to work," St. Pierre said.

Officials with the D.C. Department of Health did not return calls seeking comment.

(Photo: The Washington Post)