- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 31, 2011

District officials are being painstakingly careful in proceeding with the city’s medical-marijuana program, even rejecting applicants for such seemingly simple mistakes as failing to sign and date letters of intent to grow or dispense the drug.

The city’s Department of Health has sent out 31 non-acceptance letters to businesses and individuals who showed interest in the program but failed to follow the letter of the law during the first step in the application process.

Agency Director Dr. Mohammad Akhter told The Washington Times the city wants to ensure it is receiving “real applications” from “real people.”

As with most matters in the District, officials fear the specter of federal intrusion on the program. Voters approved the program in 1998 but it has stalled as a result of congressional interference and the time needed to develop rules and procedures.

In addition, the drug is still illegal by federal standards, and a recent memo by the Justice Department casts doubt on whether U.S. attorneys will look the other way when it comes to local medical-marijuana programs.

The vetting of letters of intent marks the first tangible step in creating a District-based collection of medical-marijuana professionals. Hopefuls who made the first cut can submit a formal application this Friday.

The agency received 170 letters of intent from more than 80 entities that wanted to apply for a cultivation site, a dispensary or both. They are competing for just 15 registrations -10 in cultivation and five on the dispensary side.

Some individuals or businesses applied in each category.

As an example of how complex the process can be, some entities were rejected for fouling up one letter of intent but cleared to apply based on their other, correct submission.

For example, Benjamin Bronfman, a pro-environment entrepreneur who is engaged to rapper M.I.A., will receive a rejection notice for sending in a letter of intent past the June 17 deadline. However, notations by District staff show at least one of Mr. Bronfman’s three letters appears to have reached the agency before the deadline.

Beyond tardiness and missing signatures, applications were rejected for failing to include an email address or daytime phone number in the letters.

In all, 17 cultivation letters and 13 dispensary letters were rejected. An applicant from Montana was rejected because she failed to designate which form of registration she wanted.

Of the other rejected letters, 17 were from the District, eight from Maryland, three from Nevada, and one each from Pennsylvania and New York.

Activists rallied in front of the John A. Wilson Building last week to argue the city needs to fully implement the program and establish legal protections for patients who benefit from it. They noted that qualified patients are suffering while the city works to implement the program.

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