Not even Montel Williams’ emotional pleas could shake the hardened resolves of the many residents who attended an ANC meeting last night to discuss six applications for medical marijuana cultivation centers in a small area of Ward 5.
The former talk show host and longtime medical marijuana user, who has applied for two cultivation center licenses in a shell of a building on Queens Chapel Road, explained that an imposing fence would surround the facility, access would be strictly limited and monitored and that his marijuana would travel in armored cars to the five dispensaries that are planned as part of the District’s long-awaited medical marijuana program.
Still, ANC 5B commissioners peppered him with critical questions and members of the audience expressed skepticism with his plans.
At one point, Williams seemed overcome of emotion, speaking of his own multiple sclerosis and how the pain affected him on a daily basis. “I hurt every day,” he admitted as he choked up. It didn’t seem to sway anyone.
None of the three other groups that pitched the ANC on their respective plans received a much more welcome response.
They were accused of simply not knowing the neighborhoods in which they wanted to set up shop, and various residents said that their city-mandated surveys had been done improperly. (No cultivation center is allowed within 300 feet of a school or recreation center, a measurement that has to be verified by a certified surveyor.) “You didn’t do your homework, you didn’t do your research,” said ANC 5B Chair Jacqueline Manning in frustration after various applicants couldn’t admit that they knew of a girls group home or nearby residences.
The general feeling was that Ward 5 was once again being treated as a dumping ground, as residents openly took umbrage with the characterization of some parts of the ward as “blighted.” Kathy Henderson, a civic activist who is running for the open Ward 5 D.C. Council seat, went so far as to say that any further progress on the medical marijuana program should be delayed until after the May 15 special election.
If this were any other ANC meeting, all the tension could likely have been brushed aside.
But this meeting was called to allow the ANC to weigh in on the four applicants that passed first muster with a six-person city panel and must now sell their plans to the communities where they seek to locate.
While the ANC cannot veto any proposed cultivation center, they could deny them the 50 points that they have to add to the final score that will determine who gets one of the 10 coveted licenses and who just wasted a lot of money and emotional capital trying.
That the meeting went so poorly wasn’t only a function of strident opposition to the medical marijuana facilities in Ward 5, but also because the D.C. Department of Health failed to turn necessary information on the applications, including proposed security plans, to the ANC ahead of time.
Worse still, two of the four applicants said that they had been given almost no notice of the meeting, and appeared without much information for the audience.
One applicant who runs a cultivation center in Montana seemed particularly taken aback by the furor in the room, something he could have prepared for had he not been given two hours notice of the meeting, he said. And though the 30-day timeframe for ANC comments was due to wrap up this week, yesterday that Department of Health gave a month-long extension for further consideration of applications.
This certainly won’t be the last ANC meeting of its sort, either.
There are a number of remaining applications that have yet to be sent to ANCs for consideration, the majority in Ward 5. Under legislation passed last month by the D.C. Council, only six cultivation centers will be allowed to open in Ward 5. Of course, the problem is that only two of the 28 applications submitted were outside of Ward 5, so even if those are granted licenses, only eight of the 10 cultivation centers planned for the program will be able to open.