Medical Marijuana Dispensary On Capitol Hill Forced to Shut Down Temporarily

Photo Credit: Salwan Georges

A medical marijuana dispensary on Capitol Hill has been forced to close its doors after the Department of Health suspended its registration last week.

It was the first time health officials in the city have taken such an action, according to Tom Lalley of the D.C. Department of Health. A dispensary’s registration is the equivalent of a license to operate and its loss means the business must close. The length of the suspension has not yet been set.

“The Department of Health’s Medical Marijuana and Integrative Therapy Division summarily suspended the medical marijuana registration of the Metropolitan Wellness Center dispensary on May 3, 2018,” the department announced on Thursday.

The dispensary’s software did not provide real-time data, said Mike Cuthriell, the owner of Metropolitan Wellness Center. He said the shop has switched to different software that will be able to provide sales information in real time.

Cuthriell said he understands the reason for the requirement — sales must be reported in real time to ensure that patients aren’t sold more marijuana than is allowed within a given time period — but was troubled by the city’s action. Cuthriell said after learning of the problem, the dispensary shared with officials its plan to resolve the issue and had been told that there was no imminent danger to public health. Cuthriell said they typically sell to 100 to 200 patients a day.

“I’m a bit shocked at how this was handled,” he said.

He said the dispensary’s doors remain locked while they wait for an inspection by officials. In a tweet, the dispensary apologized to its patients for the inconvenience.

He emphasized that his dispensary is closely regulated and has complied with all requirements since it opened in 2013, he said. The department’s action, he said, just makes it easier for the city’s thriving gray market of marijuana sales to operate.

The unregulated gray market arose as entrepreneurs sought to take advantage of a ballot measure which passed in 2014 allowing District residents to grow or to possess small amounts of cannabis for personal use, and to share a small amount with someone else, but not to buy it or sell it. Some companies now sell cookies or paintings or other things that come with a “gift” of marijuana in the delivery, or try other creative attempts to comply with the law and make a profit.

In 2009, the District approved medical marijuana and began the process of regulating suppliers and dispensaries who can legally sell the drug to patients.

Lalley said he did not have information beyond the statement from the department, and a health official could not immediately be reached for comment Saturday.