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Yesterday the D.C. Council voted to eliminate jail time for marijuana possession (Washington Post). Due to this extremely relevant news, we decided today is a very good time to revisit our Behind The Scenes At A Medical Marijuana Dispensary feature from February 21, 2013. -ed.

The city has awarded certificates of occupancy to a dispensary, Capital City Care, and a cultivation center, Holistic Remedies. We had a chance to speak to Scott Morgan, Communications Director for Capital City Care, and take a tour of the facilities (designed by Studio3877), enlightening us about what goes on behind the scenes when opening a marijuana dispensary, his expectations for the business, clearing up misconceptions, and being in good terrific humor with a few of our silly questions.

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Thanks so much for taking the time out to talk with us, Scott. We have to admit we’re fairly curious–how does one find themselves in the medical marijuana trade?

For me, it really began as a small child in Mt. Pleasant in the 1980s. Drugs were in my neighborhood and on the evening news. It’s something I was taught to be terrified of, but as I grew older, I saw marijuana helping people instead of hurting them. I voted for D.C.’s medical marijuana law as a senior in high school, after my own experience with migraine headaches led me to sympathize with people in pain. I studied criminal justice and worked in the non-profit sector, but I always kept an eye out for progress on medical marijuana in D.C. When the time came, I was ready to go.

And how does someone come to shop at Capital City Care? What does it take to get that medical card?

That’s what sets D.C. apart. The list really is short: HIV/AIDS, cancer, glaucoma, or severe muscle spasms are the only qualifying conditions. You can also get approval if you’re undergoing medical treatments like chemotherapy, radiology, or protease inhibitors, but that’s it for now. More conditions may be added later by the Department of Health, but in the meantime, people who qualify need to get a form filled out by their doctor and then the city issues a card that gets them into the dispensary.

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Any tips on gaming the system when you go into a doctor’s office to get a prescription? (Kidding……sort of…..heh-heh……answer the question

Well, it’s not like faking a tummy ache to get out of school. There’s no trickery here, but I think the key for patients is to know your doctor and let them get to know you. The decision to recommend marijuana is a personal one. It’s part of a personal relationship. We might also have to remind some doctors that it’s okay to recommend marijuana. These recommendations are protected by the 1st Amendment, believe it or not.

Why you? There were multiple dispensaries vying to be the first spot open; how did Capital City Care win the race?

Everyone’s working hard to get open and I think it will be close, actually. We’re in a good position for no other reason than that we really pushed ourselves, and everyone on the team is contagiously excited. The dispensary looks amazing inside, and when you’re building something beautiful, you hate to take breaks. As things stand, our official opening should be mid-April, when D.C.’s first harvest is ready to go. Everything has to be grown here in the city, so we’re literally waiting for the plants to get plump.

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Will your dispensary manage to make money creatively, like with cannibutter, edibles, accessories, etc.? How many styles of pipes will you guys sell?

We’ll start off with the basics, but remember, we’re serving a unique group with more serious health needs than you’ve seen in other states. Maybe they won’t want giant bongs, you know? We’re going to be big on vaporizers at Capital City, but anything we get a lot of requests for, we’ll try to do. Patients are welcome to visit us on Facebook or at CapitalCityCare.com and let us know what you’d like to see in the store.

We’re also the only dispensary that also has a cultivation license, which means we’ll actually be able to produce our own edibles. I’m not aware of anyone else planning a kitchen in D.C., so it’s important to me that we get it done.

We’ll also have a free counseling program, and we’re just as excited about that as we are about the other products.

How did you get your startup cash? Did you consider franchising at all, like California businesses?

It was…hard. What a lot of people still don’t get is that D.C.’s medical marijuana program isn’t really designed to be very profitable. With limited patients and limited plant count, there’s only so much you can do. We had to find investors who could prioritize our positive impact ahead of our profits. You can imagine how easy that was. But we found the right people, and that’s why we’re here.

Another thing to remember is that we’re illegal under federal law. It’s a risk assessment issue that most investors can’t get past, and you can’t really blame them. In our case, the investors have had some tough personal experiences with the medical conditions, so their decision was motived by more than just money. As a group,  we just have different goals than most new businesses.

We never really considered franchising because we were a local team and we wanted to keep it that way. We thought the program would work best if it was run by people from D.C. and we know the city wanted to keep things local too.

If you would, talk to us a little bit about regulation; how is City Care helping politically or culturally, if either? What does it say about D.C. as a city?

What we have here is Medical Marijuana 2.0. What we’re doing is different than what you’ve seen in Colorado or California, and the Council designed things that way on purpose. We’re literally up the hill from Congress, so the example we set could shape how national leaders approach this issue in the years to come. There’s also a fear that Congress could just shut us down – they could do that – so our model reflects what the Council felt would be most sustainable.

For our part, we’re just grateful to be selected to do this work. We’re not a decision-making body, we’re a service provider. We just want to set a good example and show that D.C. is a good place for a program like this.

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Do you have any plans for donating to council members or mayoral campaigns to get into lobbying?

It’s not something we’ve talked about. My first thought here is that the Council voted unanimously in favor of our medical marijuana law, so there’s already a  lot of support for what we do here. I’d say that in terms of our giving, we’re a lot more interested in supporting charities than getting into politics.

How will the dispensary get medicine? Will you guys grow it yourselves?

We’re in the unique position of having licenses to both dispense and cultivate cannabis, so yes, we’ll be growing it ourselves. But we’re the only dispensary doing that. We’re also happy to buy from other cultivation centers if we like what they’ve got.

I think that’s one of the big things that will distinguish us. I expect we’ll have the most inventory and variety as a result, which is important when supply is limited overall.

If we understand correctly, someone that has a medically licensed disability has the ability to sell product to you. Are we right? And if so, do you plan on buying any medicinal marijuana from these “freelancers” or is it all streamlined from one or a few more “official” sources?

Actually, “official sources” is more like it. The city approved six cultivation centers to grow in D.C. and the dispensaries can’t buy from anywhere else. Everything has to be grown within the District. Heck, for that matter, every plant has to be tagged and recorded on camera. It’s a long walk from California, both literally and figuratively.

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Are you ever reluctant to talk about what you do to new acquaintances? Do people now expect you to “hook them up” and start nudging you with their elbows and raising their eyebrows?

People think it’s pretty cool, and despite all the stress I’ve been through, so do I. Honestly, I don’t get asked for stuff that much. But a lot of people tell me they’re going to become members – like friends who I know don’t meet the criteria – so I’m constantly explaining that the rules are actually really strict.

We’ve heard of stories of dispensaries going out of work not only for underselling, but actually overselling. Have you guys considered the dangers of going out of business for having too many patients?

Yeah, that’s something we could actually run into if enough people sign up. Each cultivation center is limited to 95 plants, which is pretty small for a professional grow. But we’ll work with the city to find solutions if we see things heading that direction. I think it all comes back to the fact that the program is for people with serious illnesses. We want to make sure their needs are met and I know the Department of Health is just as committed to that as we are. Since we’re both growing and selling, we’re better able to manage supply for our patients so everyone’s needs are met.

Are you worried about smoking too much weed?

Well, fortunately for me, I’m not suffering from any of the qualifying conditions, so I can touch it all day, but I can’t take it home. No staff discount, no leftovers, no nothing.

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Are you guys worried about security? Automatically we assume it may get targeted, as well as its patients.

I can’t spell it out, but we’re doing a lot to make the place safe. The law requires certain things, and we’ve got a lot of our own plans in place as well. The notion of dispensaries as crime magnets is pretty trumped up to begin with, but we’ll be ready just in case. Our patients need to feel safe, so that’s a very big part of the job.

What’s your process like for hiring employees? Do your subordinates have to be government certified and regulated? What sort of “character” are you looking for?

You know, we get emails about employment every day. People really want to work here for some reason, and I think I know what it is. The truth is that early on, we’re running a very light staff until the pace picks up and we have some cash flow to hire with. Obviously, we’ll be pretty picky because the wrong person can make a mess for us, and the nature of the business can attract people who have the wrong idea. There are certifications, background checks, etc. involved too, so we’ll be taking these decisions very seriously. I should add that we’re more interested in experience with AIDS and cancer patients than experience with marijuana.

Is there a five to ten year plan? What’s your ideal expansion?

Wow, that’s hard to say. There are so many variables in play that we’re not really talking that far ahead yet. We’ll be happy if we’re able to pay our staff and take care of our patients. The program is expected to grow over time, new qualifying conditions are expected to be added, and I imagine we’ll be a part of that, but we’re taking it one day at a time.

If we’re figuratively dying on the inside could we get a sample?

Sure, I’ll send you an autographed picture of some Blue Dream as soon as it’s harvested. You can do whatever you want with it.

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