Medical Marijuana Grow House Proposed for Ward 5

Entrepreneurs Look to Build Grow House for Medical Marijuana in Ward 5

Some doctors say it helps relieve nausea, vomiting, certain AIDS symptoms and some side effects of chemotherapy. Some opponents call it the infamous "gateway drug". Whether for or against it, medical marijuana has become the topic of conversation across the country.

DC residents Aaron Hirsch and partner Erica Sondergaard are not fazed by this. Hirsch opened the floor to debate as he proposed his business model for building a medical marijuana grow house during an Advisory Neighborhood Commission 5B meeting on a windy, Thursday night at the Washington Center for Aging Services in Ward 5. The grow house would work exclusively with other dispensaries in the DC area and remain closed to the public. Patients would be able to get prescriptions from their doctors.

"We came here to start a dialogue with the community. If there are any concerns, we want to be able to talk to people about it," Hirsch said during the meeting. "This will be a secure facility; not be open to public. Plus, we'll be adding jobs to the area and contributing to the community. There won't be tours."

As if on cue, many Ward 5 residents began to murmur among themselves about the idea of adding more drugs to the community. Sensing disapproval from some community members, Hirsch went on to explain the difference between illegal marijuana and medical marijuana.

"The difference is that with the marijuana that's on the street, you don't know what you're getting. With medical marijuana, patients can choose a certain strain that performs in a certain way for a specific condition; some are longer lasting, some are better for nausea, etc."

No less than a year ago on May 4, 2010, the District of Columbia Council approved a measure that would allow people with certain chronic illnesses to obtain medical marijuana from a handful of dispensaries regulated by the city. The council voted unanimously to permit doctors to recommend marijuana for patients with H.I.V., as well as people with cancer, glaucoma or a "chronic and lasting disease.

The measure allows Mayor Vincent C. Gray to establish up to eight dispensaries where patients could receive up to two ounces of marijuana monthly. This also gives the mayor the option of raising the amount to four ounces without further council action.

"D.C. has been writing the rules in a very intelligent way," Hirsch said. "They're writing the legislation in a more careful way than California, and the rules are much stricter here."

His partner, Sondergaard, a medical practioner and fervent gardener, remains determined. "From a medical standpoint, people need it for chronic pain and HIV," said Sondergaard. "We have a large HIV population in the community and it sometimes is the only thing that relieves the nausea."

"I wasn't originally interested in this business," Hirsch said. "However when I looked at the processes involved, the science involved and the scale of the operation, I kept thinking that this is the perfect opportunity for someone who wants to start small. We're anticipating the initial patient population at 500."

Hirsch and Sondergaard are looking into also growing high-Cannabidiol strains, which are non-intoxicating but have been proven to have anti-inflammatory effects without an accompanying "high". Studies conducted overseas in Europe have found that these high=CBD strains are potentially effective in easing symptoms of diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and other conditions.

"As more patients demand the right to access this option of care, I believe the people will prevail, especially if the early part of this program is a success," said Sondergaard.