- The Washington Times - Monday, January 16, 2012

Less than two weeks after Harry Thomas Jr. stepped gave up his Ward 5 seat on the D.C. Council and pleaded guilty to stealing District funds, the saturation of medical marijuana centers and other issues in his Northeast ward will take center stage at the first legislative session without him.

Council members Vincent B. Orange, at-large Democrat, and Marion Barry, Ward 8 Democrat, are set to introduce a pair of bills Tuesday that would limit the concentration of licenses to grow or sell medical marijuana in an individual ward or the amount of licenses granted to a company. Mr. Orange also plans to introduce a bill that would impose a moratorium on strip clubs, topless bars and gentlemen’s clubs in Ward 5.

A pair of contract modifications from council member Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat, are the only items on a draft agenda for the meeting that are not directly related to Ward 5 matters left behind by Thomas, who resigned Jan. 6 in the hours after federal prosecutors charged him with stealing public funds and filing false tax returns.

Thomas had expressed concern that almost all of the applicants who wished to cultivate medical marijuana had proposed sites in a part of his ward bordered by Bladensburg and Queens Chapel roads and New York Avenue. He said the burden of the program should be distributed across the city, while acknowledging that the Ward 5 cluster was a result of zoning restrictions.

Mr. Orange, a longtime resident and former council member for Ward 5, also sounded the alarm on medical marijuana and has positioned himself as the city legislator best suited to address the ward’s needs in Thomas‘ absence.

He and council Chairman Kwame R. Brown will propose legislation that caps the number of medical marijuana-related facilities in a single ward at five cultivation centers and two dispensaries.

Right now, the D.C. Department of Health plans to issue up to 10 cultivation registrations and five dispensary registrations without ward-by-ward guidelines, so the legislation could create some ripples in the long-awaited - and carefully regulated - medical marijuana program.

A spokesman for Mayor Vincent C. Gray said on Monday the administration will not comment on the bills until they are introduced and adequately reviewed.

Mr. Barry’s bill would limit each applicant in the program to getting one license, noting that a pair of companies each obtained preliminary approval for two cultivation centers. The companies, District Growers LLC and the Montel Williams-affiliated Abatin Wellness Center, represent more than half of the seven applications forwarded to Advisory Neighborhood Commissions for their input.

Mr. Barry’s draft bill mistakenly says the licenses have already been awarded, but the successful applicants will not be revealed until the ANCs score the applications and DOH Director Mohammad N. Akhter awards the registrations.

The marijuana bills and Mr. Orange’s cap on strip clubs - legislation he floated in September that was overshadowed by bills he introduced on ethics reform - will be introduced as emergency legislation that requires approval from eight of the 12 members on the council.