Blame the Feds, Not a Functionary, For Pot in Ward 5
The Ward 5 Heartbeat has a story in its most recent edition exposing how Zoning Administrator Matt Legrant "steered" would-be marijuana cultivation centers to their neck of the woods, alleging that even though the regulations did not themselves require the facilities to locate in manufacturing zones—which are found almost exclusively in Ward 5—that's where he told them to go.
Conspiracy? I think not.
What the marijuana regs actually say is that cultivation centers may not locate in residential zones or within 300 feet of a school or recreation center. Commercial zones are governed by long lists of allowed uses, of which many are pretty outdated (tobacconists, watch repair shops) and which certainly don't include anything like "marijuana cultivation center." There aren't even any other agricultural uses, like a greenhouse. So Legrant figured that the level of electricity needed for a growing operation, among other factors, made it a "light manufacturing" use, which is only allowed in commercial manufacturing zones. Almost all of that kind of zoning is in Ward 5. (I sketched it out a while ago; D.C.'s new official version is above).
(By the way, those "documents obtained by the Ward 5 Heartbeat" didn't appear to have any more information than what was in the zoning determination letters that are published on the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs' website. It's worth mentioning, too, that the newspaper's editor is married to the guy who's crusaded against Legrant's decision to allow certain sexually-related businesses in the ward, which he calls the city's new "red light district." UPDATE: This post originally said, incorrectly, that the documents were the zoning letters; Heartbeat editor Abigail Padou says the story "relied upon private email written by Zoning Administrator Matthew Legrant and obtained from a source within the medical marijuana cultivation community." It's not clear what information that e-mail contributed beyond what was already publicly available, though.)
It's probably true, however, that there's nothing so offensive about a cultivation center that it couldn't be located in other commercial districts. So why wouldn't the Office of Planning try to get the zoning changed, like they have with other pressing business needs like more yoga studios and liquor licenses on 14th street, to give pot entrepreneurs more choices?
Well, the problem is that the board that would have to approve such a change—the Zoning Commission—has two federal members, sworn to uphold federal law, which still doesn't allow the use of marijuana for any reason. "The Zoning Commission could've said 'no, we don't want to put these anywhere,'" points out DCRA spokesman Helder Gil.
Thus far, the feds have looked the other way on D.C.'s marijuana program, but you never know what might happen if it were waved in front of their noses. So the pot regime has to live within the current rules, even though they're certainly not well adapted to that use.