The Council of the District of Columbia has approved legislation allowing patients with valid medical marijuana cards from other states to access medicinal cannabis in D.C. This represents another step toward effectively nullifying federal prohibition in practice.

Introduced by Cnc. Yvette Alexander, B21-0210 or the Medical Marijuana Reciprocity Amendment Act of 2015 expands the District’s medical marijuana program by enabling patients undergoing a qualifying medical treatment or possessing a valid medical marijuana card from another jurisdiction to access medical marijuana in Washington D.C.

The ordinance also expands D.C’s medical marijuana program in several other ways:

  • Increases the number of marijuana plants permitted to be grown at D.C. cultivation centers from 500 to 1,000.
  • Allows medical marijuana cultivation centers to expand into adjacent real property with community notice, and to provide for the relocation and change in ownership of dispensaries, cultivation centers, and testing laboratories.
  • It would amend the District of Columbia Health Occupations Revision Act of 1985 to allow for the authorization of additional health professionals to recommend medical marijuana based on the recommendations of the Boards of Medicine and Nursing.

Several states have medical marijuana reciprocity, including Arizona, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.

Washington D.C.’s medical marijuana law went into effed in 2010. Passage of B210-0210 would further expand the District’s nullification of federal prohibition.


D.C.’s medical marijuana program removes one layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana, but federal prohibition remains in place.

The federal government actually has the constitutional authority to ban or regulate marijuana within the borders of the District of Columbia, but the city legalized medicinal cannabis anyway..

A federal ban becomes ineffective when the local jurisdictions simply ignore it and pass laws encouraging the prohibited activity anyway. The federal government lacks the enforcement power necessary to maintain its ban, and people will willingly take on the small risk of federal sanctions if they know the state will not interfere. This increases when the state or local actively encourages the market and nullifies federal prohibition in effect. This is exactly what has happened in D.C.

While District law does not alter federal law, it takes a step toward nullifying in effect the federal ban. FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. By easing state prohibition, the city essentially sweeps away part of the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.

Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly-budget just to investigate and raid all the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution.

The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state (or in this case District) assistance.

Washington D.C. is among a growing number of jurisdictions simply ignoring federal prohibition. Colorado, Oregon, Washington state and Alaska have all legalized both recreational and medical marijuana, and more than 2-dozen states now allow cannabis for medical use. With half the country legalizing marijuana, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition any more. The feds need state cooperation to fight the “drug war,” and that has rapidly evaporated in the last few years with state legalization, practically nullifying the ban.

“The lesson here is pretty straight forward. When enough people say, ‘No!’ to the federal government, and enough states pass laws backing those people up, there’s not much the feds can do to shove their so-called laws, regulations or mandates down our throats,” Tenth Amendment Center founder and executive director Michael Boldin said.

This proposal to expand the D.C’s medical marijuana law also demonstrates another important reality. Once a jurisdiction puts laws in place legalizing marijuana, it tends to eventually expand. Once the jurisdiction tears down some barriers, markets develop and demand expands. That creates pressure to further relax the law.

TJ Martinell

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