- The Washington Times - Friday, March 30, 2012

The D.C. Department of Health has notified six applicants they may register to grow medical marijuana in the city, jump-starting an effort to aid the sick and dying that had languished under congressional interference and complex rulemaking since voters approved the program in 1998.

All six of the successful firms will open their cultivation centers in Northeast — five in Ward 5 and one in Ward 7 — although the latter applicant may have to move its site due to recent action by the D.C. Council to bar marijuana cultivation in areas tagged for economic development.

DOH Director Mohammad Akhter picked the firms after a six-member panel of health, law enforcement and regulatory officials vetted the applicants and received comments from advisory neighborhood commissions in the affected areas. The successful applicants must apply for business licenses, building permits, certificates of occupancy before they receive their registrations and begin to grow the drug.

Dr. Akhter is expected to select up to five companies on June 8 who may sell the drug with a dispensary registration.

Initially, the health department was slated to select up to 10 cultivation centers to inaugurate the long-awaited program. But the council decided in January that each ward could host up to six cultivation centers, a move intended to assuage fears that a slice of Ward 5 would be inundated with marijuana growers. The decision effectively limited the number of registrations that could be doled out among the qualified applicants.

The selected companies in Ward 5 are Abatin Wellness Center, a firm affiliated with Montel Williams that will set up operations at 2146 Queens Chapel Road; Holistic Remedies at 1840 Fenwick Street; Montana Apothecary doing business as Alternative Solutions at 2170 24th Place; District Growers at 2417 Evarts Street; and Venture Forth doing business as Center City at 2210 Channing Street.

Phyto Management LLC was selected to open up across the Anacostia River at 3701 Benning Road, Northeast, however it is expected to relocate after council member Yvette M. Alexander, Ward 7 Democrat, successfully offered a bill that forces them to move out of the “retail priority area” near Minnesota Avenue without jeopardizing their standing with the health department.

The city is rolling out the program in a tightly regulated manner, after Congress forced it to wait for more than a decade to move on the initiative. However, wavering stances from federal drug enforcement officials have put marijuana programs across the country on uncertain ground.

The District — through its methodical approach — should avoid federal interference, although it did ask applicants to sign a waiver that releases the city from liability if the federal government decides to prosecute the program’s participants.