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D.C. Publishes Medical Marijuana Regulations

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Stores that sell medical marijuana in Washington won’t be allowed to advertise their wares with giant cannabis leaves, and the packages they dispense will have to display a health warning.

Those are just two of more than 300 proposed regulations published Friday to implement a new medical marijuana law in the city.

The regulations, which range from how the drug may be grown to what dispensaries can look like, are the first step in setting out how Washington residents will be able to obtain marijuana for medical use. The law allowing patients with certain conditions to buy the drug passed earlier this year and went into effect in late July. The newly proposed regulations, written by the mayor’s office, are now open for review and comment by the public. The process is expected to last several months.

Patients are not expected to be able to buy marijuana in the city until 2011.

On Friday, medical marijuana advocates were already questioning some of the regulations and asking why it would take so long for them to go into effect. Some, like Kris Hermes, spokesman for the Oakland, Calif.-based patient-advocacy group Americans For Safe Access, took issue with regulations that put marijuana growers and sellers under the authority of the same city agency that handles liquor licenses, the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration. Hermes said marijuana should be regulated by the health department, which will oversee patient registration.

“This is not a drug that needs to be controlled the same way as alcohol,” Hermes said.

Dan Riffle, a lobbyist for the Washington-based Marijuana Policy Project, said he was worried about a plan to approve applications for the city’s five dispensaries and 10 cultivation centers on a first-come, first-served basis.

He said that plan could give licenses to “the first applicant rather than the best applicant.”

Riffle said he was pleased, however, that the regulations are specific about packaging and labeling requirements and that they require particular training for dispensary and cultivation center employees.

Packages of marijuana will have to display a warning that says in part, “There may be health risks associated with the ingestion or use of this product.” Dispensaries, meanwhile, will be prohibited from advertising marijuana on their storefronts.

“You’re not going to have green marijuana neon signs in the window,” said Keith Stroup, founder of The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, a Washington-based nonprofit that advocates for the legalization of marijuana.

Also included in the regulations is information about mandatory patient registration cards. Registering for a card will cost $100, and each card will include a photo. Cards will have to be renewed every year, another $100 fee.

The new regulations also help clarify how Washington will handle a first-in-the-nation provision that says a sliding scale must be used to determine how much low-income residents pay for medical marijuana.

The regulations say patients who qualify for Medicaid or whose income is equal to or less than 200% of the federal poverty level will be eligible for a reduced registration and renewal fee, $25. Dispensaries will also have to set aside 2% of their revenue to help low-income patients purchase the drug.

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Johnny Green

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