By John Kruzel ’14
BROOKLAND – Celebrity talk show host Montel Williams has received the green light to grow medical marijuana plants in a 15,000 square-foot building near CUA campus.
Pending final approval by city officials, the cultivation center co-owned by Williams may soon be one of six grow sites to harvest hundreds of plants per month for medical marijuana to dispensaries across Washington.
Williams has been a medical marijuana user and advocate since being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1999.
Despite pushback from local residents, Williams’ Abatin Wellness Center is among five cultivation centers the District’s Department of Health authorized in March to grow marijuana in Northeast D.C., all within a three-block radius of Catholic University.
The District voted to legalize medical marijuana in 1998 but Congress blocked its implementation for a decade. Since the prohibition ended city officials have approved the drug for treating cancer, HIV/AIDS, glaucoma and multiple sclerosis.
While 69-percent of the electorate approved the medical marijuana initiative 14 years ago, some neighborhood councils balked when discussion arose over where to locate cultivation centers and dispensaries.
Medical marijuana entrepreneurs argued that city regulations limited them to industrial sites found primarily in the District’s Ward 5, specifically in the Langdon neighborhood that abuts Brookland, where cultivation centers could be housed 300 feet away from schools, playgrounds and recreation centers in accordance with zoning laws, the DCist reports.
But as the turf war raged last year, Ward 5 residents countered that clustering the grow sites in Langdon represented a public safety threat and could devalue property.
A Ward 5 neighborhood council resolution characterized the move as representing “the over concentration of a highly regulated entity, each of which has a significant likelihood of leading to increased criminal activity in the surrounding neighborhood [and] a lowering of resident’s property values.”
For his part, Williams entered the debate last year and tried to use his personal struggle to illustrate the palliative effects medical marijuana bestows on those suffering from chronic illness.
“I try my best to do the best I can to keep a positive image forward for cameras,” he said at a Ward 5 neighborhood meeting, the DCist reported last December. “But most people here have no clue what I live with on a daily basis.”
Helder Gil, a spokesman for the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, which approves building plans in the District, was unable to offer a timeline on when cultivation centers would be up and running. But Gil said it could take some providers longer to open if they plan to make major renovations, including additional electric or water supplies.
“If they are just doing minor stuff . . . they can get a building permit quickly and then come in and get the sign-off,” Gil told the Washington Post.
Cultivation centers require final approval from the Department of Health after receiving authorization from DCRA, Gil added.