Ward 5 residents have had enough. With five medical marijuana cultivation centers and one dispensary already approved for location in their neighborhoods along the northeast edge of the city, the residents said they have accommodated their fair share.
In the course of approving the first licenses, officials did not pay enough attention to residents’ concerns, said Ward 5 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Jacqueline Manning.
With a new round of applications in the works, she said, “hopefully they hear us loud and clear and don’t bring any more to this ward; we have enough,” she said.
Members of the D.C. Council seem to be listening. They recently approved an emergency bill which temporarily limits the number of cultivation centers and dispensaries that can be established in a ward. The bill’s sponsor, Ward 5 Councilman Kenyan McDuffie said while he is a “strong supporter” of the medical marijuana program, which was passed by referendum in 1998 but held up for 12 years by regulatory delays, he had to respond to his constituents’ understandable fears.
“The oversaturation of cultivation centers exclusively and inequitably falls upon Ward 5,” McDuffie said. “Ensuring that these facilities are equitably distributed across the city’s wards will facilitate both balance and access.”
The “Medical Marijuana Cultivation Center and Dispensary Location Restriction Temporary Amendment Act of 2013” would, among other things, prohibit more than one dispensary in wards with five or more cultivation sites. The bill expires on Dec. 28 and mirrors a permanent measure, which is awaiting a vote by the full council.
Commissioner Karen Butler, of ANC 5C02, said the issue of overconcentration is particularly acute in her district, which encompasses the Woodridge, Langdon and Woodridge South communities. Four of the five registered cultivation centers in Ward 5 are situated there, within a quarter mile radius of each other.
“My community is primarily seniors and this does not fit the mold of this community,” Butler said.
Residents are already concerned about the profusion of nightclubs in the area and wish to attract more neighborhood-friendly development, like restaurants.
“Residents are concerned about a potential chilling effect on community-serving amenities locating near these facilities,” McDuffie acknowledged.
But they’re mostly concerned about crime.
“Since we currently have violent crime problems in that area, having that many cultivation centers is a security problem,” Butler said.
According to statistics culled from the Metropolitan Police Department and collated by Neighborhood Info DC, the rate of violent and property crimes in Ward 5 exceeded the city’s average. In 2011, Ward 5 had 13 violent crimes per 1,000 residents compared to an average of 12 violent crimes per 1,000 residents in entire city; and 46 property crimes per 1,000 residents compared to an average 43 property crimes per 1,000 across the city.
The validity of such fears are unknown since the program is so new, McDuffie said. But that’s why his legislation is so important as it gives officials time to assess the program’s impact.
“We don’t yet know the impact of these facilities on surrounding areas and I have consistently advocated for a diversity of businesses in Ward 5,” McDuffie said.
“However, I want to make sure that any effects on nearby residents and businesses are fully known before we continue to cluster these facilities in one location.”
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