- The Washington Times - Monday, January 9, 2012

Before he resigned and admitted to stealing $350,000 from the District, former D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr. expressed concern that much of the city’s medical marijuana cultivation would take place in a small slice of his Northeast ward.

The D.C. Department of Health recently green-lighted seven applicants who plan to grow the drug, including a pair from the company affiliated with TV personality Montel Williams. And, sure enough, six of the applicants propose a site in a section of Ward 5 that abuts Bladensburg Road and is best known for manufacturing and strip clubs.

Their applications will be scored by Advisory Neighborhood Commissions in the coming weeks, one of the last steps before potential cultivation centers get one of 10 licenses to grow the drug in the District.

Unlike earlier community meetings on the controversial subject, Ward 5 will weigh in on the program without a council member dedicated to representing their interests at city hall — offering an “Exhibit A” in the leadership gap left by Thomas, a Democrat who faces more than three years in federal prison after his May 3 sentencing.

“That can be a problem, because of his close relationship to the ANCs,” Albrette “Gigi” Ransom, of ANC5C, said of Thomas’ departure.

Ms. Ransom said the concentration of marijuana facilities in the ward is a problem for some community leaders, but her most pressing concern is the 30-day time frame the ANCs have to weigh in on the applications.

She noted that the four at-large council members should be able to provide assistance during the process.

A list circulated to the three ANCs in Ward 5 indicates that five different entities are considered “provisional applicants” to grow marijuana.

The Department of Health forwarded two applications from Mr. Williams’ company, Abatin Wellness Center, and a pair from District Growers LLC.

The two other applicants in Ward 5 are Montana Apothecary, doing business as “Alternative Solutions,” and Venture Forth, whose business name is “Center City.”

A seventh applicant, Phyto Management, proposes a site on Benning Road in Ward 7.

Each applicant had obtained 150 points or more from a six-member panel of city health, law enforcement and regulatory officials.

The Health Department may forward additional candidates to the ANCs this month, because 10 applicants failed to provide the proper paperwork and have a chance to correct their submissions.

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.

Council member Vincent B. Orange, at-large Democrat who formerly represented Ward 5, said he may draft legislation to limit the number of cultivation sites in the ward.

“If they have to be in Ward 5, then all the dispensaries shouldn’t be in Ward 5,” Mr. Orange added. “The ward should not have to bear the burden of the entire program.”

Mr. Orange, who has lived in the ward for about 30 years, was scheduled to host a Ward 5 leadership meeting at a Northeast church on Monday night to talk about the upcoming special election and “what has occurred and where we are going.”

“I think it’s an opportunity for the people of Ward 5 to exhale,” he said.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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