DC Medical Marijuana Bill Hearing

Right, so you’ve already figured out by reading the title that this isn’t your standard review. I suppose it’s a review of what it’s like to attend a hearing regarding the DC medical marijuana program at City Hall so you can decide if that’s the sort of thing you’d be into. In fact, the bulk of this review is aimed at the owners of the dispensaries and cannabis cultivation facilities, which I shall accomplish without cursing or condescension. Respect, bro. Alright? Alright. But first, I’ll give my regular readers the skinny on what happened yesterday.

The bill in question is meant to level the playing field for the dispensaries that view themselves in competition with Initiative 71 gifting brands. Below, I will explain precisely why I believe this perspective is flawed, but let’s detail what the bill in its current form would accomplish if passed:

  1. Patients could self-certify that they need marijuana for medical purposes, thus eliminating the significant expense and time to see a doctor that will provide them with the needed recommendation.
  2. The establishment of social-use spaces for District medical marijuana patients. It sounded to me like everybody was planning to use their dispensary for this purpose, which would require some expansion and serious work to the air filtration units.
  3. Allow medical dispensaries to offer delivery to their patients, as they’ve noted from my site that delivery is an awfully popular option.

Metropolitan Wellness Center’s representative complained that the cost of getting a doctor’s recommendation is cost-prohibitive, even going into a letter from a former patient stating such. As I’ve pointed out numerous times, MWC sells weed between $600 and $700 an ounce. I have to ask, if your patient can’t afford a one-time fee of $200, how can they afford to buy medicine from you guys on a regular basis? Everyone else charges $400-$500/ounce (for the most part; there’s generally a few strains on special and there are also strains more expensive than these rough numbers I’ve listed). Ok, ok, we’re moving on!

Kate Bell from the Marijuana Policy Project spoke in favor of the bill and specifically addressed that there was no concern vis-a-vis the Harris rider (the federal budget language preventing DC from legalizing recreational sales). Rabbi Kahn of Takoma Wellness stated vehemently that this bill was necessary. Jen Brunenkant from Herbal Alternatives was generally in support but suggested the details of the bill needed further clarification and voiced concern over the safety of delivery. Joey Lewis, head grower for Alternative Solutions, provided testimony that the plant count (cultivation centers are limited to 1000 plants) is insufficient to meet patient needs.

Gary Hiller from Abatin Wellness contradicted the idea that they aren’t able to produce enough medicine, but more surprisingly, came out against the bill, urging the city to not rock the boat and incur federal scrutiny. Abatin stated one of the reasons they weren’t able to get enough patients into the program was the cost of medicine, which is absolutely accurate and what I’ve been saying, but does not paint the whole picture. The Department of Health’s representatives were not in favor of ANY of the bill’s points and also suggested that they could bring unwanted Congressional attention to the city’s program. Their concerns were slightly incredulous, and I quietly laughed at the exchange between the DoH rep and former mayor Vincent Gray, which I will paraphrase for you below:

GRAY: Sir, do you actually believe any of the nonsense you’re spouting or is this the DoH’s position?

DoH GUY: Ummm…I’m here representing the DoH.

GRAY: Okay, cool.

And he was cool! Not to be a total starfucker or whatever but I see that dude on TV all the time. In person, watching him work, he was like cucumbers, man. An intimidating cucumber. A Pickle Rick? Which is why I went up to introduce myself and offer him my perspective on the DC MMJ program, Initiative 71, the whole shebang. He didn’t take me up on it, possibly because I haven’t shaved in two weeks and showed up in my Bill Belichick costume (Blog Life, baby!)

But that offer wasn’t for him alone. DC MMJ folks, and I know some of you bigwigs read me cuz you told me so, the rest of this piece is for you. I’m gonna tell you some things I’ve learned in the past year running this blog, analyzing my traffic, figuring out what works and what doesn’t.

First up- YOU ARE NOT IN COMPETITION WITH INITIATIVE 71 BRANDS. I mean, okay, kinda- but it’s more complicated than you think. The medical program’s expansion to allow any and all conditions predated Initiative 71 going into effect (which I judge from Mayor Bowser’s showdown with Congress- nobody was sure it was gonna fly until Jan ’16). Folks had the chance to join your program before I-71 gifts were ever a thing. Patients didn’t join then, they didn’t after (technically inaccurate- your current numbers show an approx 1000 member increase since I originally joined the program, they just didn’t zoom zoom), and I know the reason why.

It isn’t delivery, even though most of your shops are fairly inconvenient to find parking at. And it isn’t solely cost, though I’ve pointed out this factor to you many times. Heck, it isn’t even about quality.

It’s about anonymity. That’s what I-71 gift brands offer the District of Columbia, with its droves of federal employees and government agency contractors. This is not California. DC is a very professional city. Career is so important here that it is literally the first thing you ask a stranger, even before their name. You’re dreaming if you think these folks are going to create a papertrail that ties them to use of a stigmatized medicine when their career is everything. MPP’s assertion that the affidavits from self-certification will remain on-file at the dispensary doesn’t address this concern. In case you’ve forgotten, you all run federally illegal businesses that could be subject to raids and shutdowns that are currently held at bay by a memo from a previous, friendlier administration. Not to mention, if Equifax, Yahoo, Target, etc. can’t keep my data safe, are you all technically capable of doing so?

So how do I know this? I run the numbers! This year alone, GentlemanToker.com has received over 130k visitors and 550k pageviews. Not too shabby, right? My point isn’t to brag, though- it’s to point out that despite these numbers, I only have 1500 Followers on Instagram and my newsletter subscribers just got over 500. I also know this because I talk to the brands I review and by far, folks that are based only on social media and don’t have their own site get the least benefit from my spotlight. By contrast, those that allow for most anonymity- say, by listing a number to contact instead of making you place an order through the site- their phones ring off the hook.

Listen, guys and gals. Initiative 71 is a stopgap and when recreational sales become legal, you all are going to kill it, just as you always expected. If you were to succeed in curtailing the gift brands, you would only prevent the way-too-stressed-out folks of DC from obtaining medicine at all. They are not, by and large, going to become your patients. Not ever. They will be your customers when they can just walk in.

The other assertion I heard a lot yesterday was that your medicine was clean, tested, implying any bud you didn’t grow is unsafe. While folks should take due care when choosing their medicine and definitely Just Say No to Poop Soup, this flies in the face of my twenty-plus years of smoking weed before the idea of a dispensary out here was even a thing. And many of you and your employees have similar experiences. That’s why a big talking point of the movement is that marijuana is safe. Furthermore, the “pharmaceutical grade” of your products is often far from the truth.

When I first joined your program, I got one of Holistic Remedies’ vape carts. Y’know, the crap coil with a chunk of crumble on it, aged well past the point that it would actually work? I brought it back and got another that didn’t work. I’ve had two tinctures, one from District Growers and one from Holistic Remedies and neither did a damn thing. You know whose tinctures work? Golden Pineapple, check those out. Remember Alternative Solutions’ trim-run black rosin experiment? The idea that all of your products are far and away better than any I-71 option isn’t just debatable- it’s laughable. Have you dabbed any of that Terpenstein fire?

That being said, strides have certainly been made and I’ve been a steadfast proponent of your flowers. I would put Abatin’s super-oily Kashmir line up against any- ANY- weed in the entire country. Kashmir Black and Red are legit- but for the price, I really think you should ensure the jar is filled with big buds. Despite how good they are, a $75 eighth of popcorn buds is disappointing.

But hey, GT, you’re biased. Why should we listen to anything you’ve got to say?

Ok, don’t listen to me. I get lots of emails- some very, very weird- but I get lots, and sometimes I hear stuff like this from a few days ago:

Yo buddy. I’ve been reading through your blog on delivery services. Interested in your humble opinion which one is reasonable, good quality, and deliver as promised. I have a card, I’m with REDACTED. I emailed you last year and you were very helpful with selecting flower from them. Seems like they’re going through a drought. Weed hasn’t really been on par. It’s like the growers are cutting the trees too early. The plant’s not curing. Etc. Other patients are noticing too. HELP!

Here’s another one:

I am a DC MMJ patient and noticed you acquired some pretty terpy looking live resin. You may be aware of this, but the concentrate options from my dispensary are lacking, particularly on the flavor side. How do I acquire…

I could go on, but you get the idea. Frankly, I get complaints about everybody at some point, so don’t feel too bad.

While we appreciate the info (I’m gonna assume), are you saying there’s nothing we can do?

Not at all. There are folks who will sign up for your program. To borrow a term from Super Size Me, we’ll call these people “super-users.” I fall into this category. To get the super-users on board, you need to compete on price and/or quality. And since you keep saying you can’t charge any less cuz you’re already not making money, that means you’re competing on quality. But since folks need to sign up before they can try your quality, I believe the self-certify bill will help matters. It would also help if there were some way to promote your products, oh I don’t know, some trusted personality that could feature them on, say, a website, or something…

So call me maybe?