- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 11, 2012

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Long before Harry Thomas Jr. tendered his resignation as Ward 5 D.C. Council member, his constituents began expressing serious opposition to the possibility that medical marijuana cultivators and dispensaries would be dumped in their ward. And now that Thomas is officially off the dais, their concerns are bearing down on other lawmakers who support reefer madness.

In back-to-back meetings this week, Ward 5 residents and elected officials effectively forced on-the-record comments from the mouths of lawmakers.

For the record, D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown told them Tuesday evening: “We are not going to put all or a majority or a supermajority in Ward 5.”

He drew much applause.

On the sidelines, I asked at-large Council member Vincent B. Orange, who lives in the ward and preceded Thomas as Ward 5 representative, whether he would consider emergency legislation to address residents’ concerns.

“Absolutely,” he said.

Council member Michael A. Brown, an at-large member whose re-election Judgment Day is in April, “would consider” supporting a measure, one of his aides, David Meadows, told me.

Now, these are but three of 12 lawmakers who have the power and authority to redirect the fast-moving train that left the station in 2010, when all 13 members of the council passed a law legalizing medical pot.

Since then, D.C. Department of Health officials have given the go-ahead for seven cultivators to set up shop, including one in Ward 7, where Kwame Brown and Mayor Vincent C. Gray live. The other six want to plop their weed-growing thumbs into Ward 5 - and therein lies a major concern.

“Six of the seven sites with provisional approval are packed together within a stone’s throw of each other on Queens Chapel Road, 24th Place and Channing and Evarts streets, a byproduct of the medical marijuana program’s security demands and city zoning laws,” Tom Howell Jr. reported in Tuesday’s editions of The Washington Times.

And at Kwame Brown’s ward meeting on Tuesday, Gigi Ransom, one of several ANC commissioners now tasked with weighing in on the marijuana cultivation proposals, explained a legal dilemma.

Essentially, the tight 30-day timeline grants commissioners and residents a mere whiff of what the law and other regulations mandate, she said. Several other commissioners I spoke with agreed.

In addition to site selections and the timeline, there is a third major concern: reconciling controlled-substance laws and anti-loitering/drug-free zones with public safety concerns.

For example, the District has a prolific methadone program to wean addicts off heroin. But “patients” were known to loiter and hustle their methadone outside a dispensary near First Street and New York Avenue NE.

Is the police department sufficiently prepared with manpower and resources to patrol the marijuana cluster and ward off a black market?

As lawmakers consider recrafting medical-marijuana law, will the sun shine on concerns of Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier, and be given considerable weight?

As chief cook and bottle washer for law and order, Council member Phil Mendelson, chairman of the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee, needs to train his eyes on crime-prevention efforts sooner rather than later.

Setting up a cluster of magnets for dope-fiends is bad public policy.

The city doesn’t cluster vision care or dental services, services to the elderly, HIV/AIDS patients or motor-vehicle or employment programs in a single ward.

There is absolutely no coherent rationale for treating medical-marijuana programs any differently.

Surely Council member David A. Catania, chairman of the Health Committee, understands as much.

The debate over how and where medical marijuana will be grown and dispensed is not about Thomas or what California and other states do and do not do. As Ward 5 supporters of the program have articulated: The issue is location, location, location.

The ball, as the saying goes, in is Chairman Brown’s court.

Mute Mitt and marijuana: Mitt Romney has loads to say about foreign policy, health coverage, education and the economy.

His comments about liking to be “able to fire people who provide services to me” drew much public scrutiny and reaction.

But was his a true slip of the tongue or was it a scripted gaffe?

It’s sort of like Mr. Romney’s position on medical marijuana, which he was queried about this week.

Oh wait. The so-called non-conservative Republican candidate doesn’t have a script for that yet.

Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

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