The long-standing recreational cannabis market in Washington D.C. may get a new boost now that Democrats control both houses of Congress, which could generate annual sales of more than $200 million for local marijuana retailers within a few years.

At the same time, existing medicinal cannabis businesses in the province have received a boost as a new regulatory body oversees the sector.

The new regulatory agency, the District Alcoholic Beverage Regulatory Agency (DABRA), has taken steps to increase the number of medical marijuana patients and facilitate commerce.

ABRA is also likely to play a key role in the launch of the new recreation program.

Voters approved cannabis for recreational use seven years ago, but Republicans in Congress blocked its introduction.

Now that Democrats hold power in Congress, recreational drug sales could begin in about a year, according to a local industry official.

I think it’s entirely possible that we’ll see sales by the end of 2021, said Adam Goers, vice president of corporate relations at Columbia Care, a New York-based multistate operator that operates a seed location in the District, as well as a clinic under the name Capital City Care.

But the worst part is that we will see it in early 2022.

Republicans block the program

Washington voters voted to legalize marijuana in a referendum in 2014, a year after the county’s medical program was launched.

That same year, the Republicans gained control of both houses of Congress.

Republicans, who have a stranglehold on Congress, used an obscure federal law to attach an amendment to a federal budget bill prohibiting the district from using taxpayer money to create a recreation market.

Congress has hosted such a Rider every year since 2015, most recently on the 27th. December 2020.

With Democrats controlling Congress, cannabis industry leaders in Washington say the question is when, not if, lawmakers will drop the amendment.

I think our chances are much better because most members of Congress support cannabis, says Linda Mercado Green, founder and owner of the county’s dispensary, Anacostia Organics.

According to observers, Congress may undo the amendment soon, even within a month or two.

Congress could also allow the agent to resign when the budget bill expires at the end of the year, clearing the way for the recreation program.

The Marijuana Business Daily predicts that the launch of the recreational market could generate $50 million in retail sales in the first year and more than $200 million in the fourth year.

Contractors say the program can be launched quickly because of the existing medical market.

It was also reported that the ABRA is working on developing rules for recreation.

It’s not that the mayor and council haven’t looked at this issue. DC already has a strong enough base to open sales quickly, Goers said. I think 90% of the work is already done.

We’re preparing for that, Green said. Statutory licensees work closely with ABRA.

Calls and emails to Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser’s office have gone unanswered.

An ABRA spokesman said the agency may make announcements about the recreation program later this month.

Scheme of MMJ rules

Meanwhile, the medical marijuana program in Washington, D.C., has seen the number of patients increase over the past year.

This growth is part of the regulatory changes that occurred when ABRA replaced the County Health Department last October.

The number of patients in the district has increased from 6,200 in January 2020 to nearly 9,300.

The most significant factor, according to management, was DC Health’s decision in February 2020 to temporarily lift the expiration date on MMJ cards. The extensions are renewed periodically, most recently until early May.

This eliminates the need for patients to update their records, an inconvenience that kept many from staying in the program.

It’s like a funnel where patients keep falling through the bottom, and our job is to push them up through the funnel, says Chanda Macias, owner and executive director of the National Holistic Healing Centre.

The floor they fell from was closed.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, DC Health also allowed home births and patients could request their medical marijuana cards online.

Despite these positive efforts, operators in the MMJ district stated that the health department is understaffed and, due to its mission, less able to assist the sector.

I think the mayor’s office, as well as several stakeholders, recognize that the health department is not in a good position to monitor this, Goers said.

The rise of industry over regulators

Industry leaders welcomed the arrival of the AfDB.

They’re responding. You keep in touch with us. They keep calling us. They are very exciting, Mr. Green said.

Washington-based operators also said the agency has made a number of changes to help the industry grow. Among other things, ABRA:

  • Temporary work cards were created to make it easier for marijuana businesses to recruit and hire new employees pending permanent registration.
  • The retention period for records of patients with JDD has been extended to two to three days, compared to 30 days or more under DC Health. Upon approval, patients will receive a link to print temporary cards in PDF format before receiving the physical cards in the mail.
  • Dispensaries are allowed to serve MMJ cardholders in a growing number of states and territories with legal medical markets. Local pharmacies currently serve approximately 3,000 patients from 32 markets outside the county, including more than 2,000 patients from neighboring Maryland and a growing number from Virginia.
  • increasing the number of vehicles a pharmacy may use for deliveries from one to three and expanding the home delivery window by four hours, from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.

The Marijuana Business Factbook predicts that MMJ sales by clinics will be between $17 million and $21 million in 2021, up from $16 million to $19 million last year.

In the future, Washington must issue two more cultivation permits, as eight of the 10 cultivation permits issued under the counties’ medical program have already been issued.

Neither of Washington’s two test permits was issued.

In addition, the seven distribution licences allocated under the programme have been awarded.

The changes and new opportunities make leaders in the local cannabis industry optimistic about the future, especially with regard to the possible introduction of an adult-use program.

We have a feeling it’s going in that direction, Macias said.

Omar Sasirbay can be contacted at [email protected].

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