- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 6, 2012

D.C. Council members hope a medical marijuana site proposed in Ward 7 will not harm long-term development in the area. But they will not bar the proposed facility from opening if it jeopardizes the integrity of the city’s tightly regulated — yet unfinished — program to aid the sick and dying.

Council member Yvette M. Alexander, Ward 7 Democrat, said she supports the medical marijuana program, but her constituents are concerned that a cultivation center awaiting final approval could hamper three- to five-year plans for retail and residential projects near Benning Road and Minnesota Avenue Northeast.

Executives for the group proposing the Ward 7 cultivation center, Phyto Management, said they do not want to stand in the way of the neighborhood’s plans but they like their location and are not permitted to move their proposed site under rules set by the D.C. Department of Health.

Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown asked Ms. Alexander to hold off on her legislative effort to ban Phyto from using the site, after city lawmakers Tuesday debated potential compromises that could satisfy all of the parties involved.

Council member David A. Catania, at-large independent, offered an amendment that would allow applicants in the city’s medical-marijuana program to amend the location of their cultivation center or dispensary without jeopardizing their proposals before the city’s health department.

Targeting a single location could open a “Pandora’s box” of objections to any number of marijuana-related locations, he said.

“I think that is an invitation to mischief,” he said, adding the situation will become more complicated when dispensary applications are vetted in coming weeks.

Ms. Alexander said Mr. Catania’s proposal was not forceful enough because it did not bar Phyto from using its Benning Road location.

Council member Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat, said targeting one site is a bad idea.

“That’s unfair to the process and also destabilizing,” he said. “We don’t control zoning.”

The council’s deliberation comes seven weeks after it decided to cap the number of medical marijuana facilities in each of the city’s ward, following objections by Ward 5 residents to excessive clustering of cultivation centers proposed for their Ivy City neighborhood.

City lawmakers do not want to turn the medical marijuana initiative on its head through further action because the program should be operational by mid-year, after more than a decade of congressional interference and painstaking rule-making.

Council member Vincent B. Orange, at-large Democrat who led the Ward 5 initiative, urged a Solomonic approach on the Ward 7 issue.

“Let’s try to work out some type of compromise here and now,” he said.

But Mr. Brown said the best solution would be to hammer out a deal ahead of the council’s next legislative session.

Ms. Alexander agreed and reiterated her support for participants in the program.

“I don’t want to start targeting locations,” she said. “I’m sure we can work it out.”

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