The Van Ness storefront that is currently home to Pill Plus Pharmacy is one of many potential sites for a new medical marijuana dispensary to be located in either Ward 3 or Ward 5.
The Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) has one dispensary license available, and six operators vying for it in Ward 3 alone. They are:
- Uxolo LLC, 4215 Connecticut Avenue NW (Van Ness – ANC 3F)
- The Good Herb, 5133 MacArthur Boulevard NW (Palisades – ANC 3D)
- Bouquet Labs DC LLC, 5185 MacArthur Boulevard NW (Palisades – ANC 3D)
- Morgan Investment Associates LLC, 3520 Connecticut Avenue NW (Cleveland Park – ANC 3C)
- Rooted Therapeutics LLC, 2614 Connecticut Avenue NW (Woodley Park – ANC 3C)
- Amitie Enterprises Inc., 2216 Wisconsin Avenue NW (Glover Park – ANC 3B)
ABRA selected the finalists from more than 100 applicants using a scoring system for such criteria as staff training, security plans, the suitability of the chosen facility, and the process for quality control. The finalists will next be scored on the ANCs’ comments on the “potential adverse impact of the proposed location to the neighborhood” and the “overconcentration or lack of facilities in the affected Ward.” In ABRA’s scoring process, this is worth as many as 30 points out of a total 250. Staffing and training can earn a 10-point score; the security plan up to 50.
ABRA notified the affected advisory neighborhood commissions via email on Friday, July 15th. It is considering formal comments from ANCs only, and only until August 22nd. ANC 3F residents can weigh in by emailing email@example.com, filling out this contact form, and tuning into the commission’s virtual town hall at 7 p.m. on Thursday, August 18th. Sulee Clay, Uxulo’s president, will give a presentation.
Clay told Forest Hills Connection that Uxolo (pronounced ook-so-low) gets its name from a Zulu word that means peace, quiet, calm or goodwill. The company is Black-owned, woman-owned and locally owned. Clay is a corporate attorney by trade, and she said she has advised cannabis businesses of all types. She is also a partner in another Ward 3 dispensary finalist, Amitie Enterprises. Uxolo’s vice president, Miya Gray, is a Pfizer executive. Other team members include a dispensary owner, a dispensary operator, and an owner of ten McDonald’s franchises.
Uxolo is proposing a 1,471 square foot dispensary serving registered medical cannabis patients from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., seven days a week. The dispensary would also provide home delivery. Clay said that the business expects to serve around 100 patients per day, many of them elderly or seeking relief from pain. In addition to the dispensary license, Uxolo is seeking a production license that would allow it to make its own products, with an emphasis on smoke-free “delivery systems,” such as edibles.
“If you have cancer, the last thing you need to be doing is smoking,” Clay said.
Clay also said that DC requires that dispensaries be located in a commercial area zoned for retail, and there are only a handful of available spaces in Ward 3. The Uxolo team chose 4215 Connecticut Avenue because the landlord, Douglas Development, told them the space may be coming available. The current occupant, Pill Plus Pharmacy, opened in 2020. We have contacted Pill Plus’s majority owner and Douglas Development for more information about the pharmacy’s lease and the landlord’s plans for the site.
What should we look for in a medical marijuana dispensary?
A knowledgeable staff, for one. The “budtenders” are much like pharmacists in a drug store. They are the knowledge specialists who are the main point of contact with patients. According to a 2016 NIH study about the training of customer service staff, 94 percent indicated that they provide specific cannabis advice to patients, yet just 55 percent reported receiving some formal training, and only 20 percent reported getting medical/scientific training. The study also found some advice was not based on evidence of effectiveness. Thus, it is important that such staff get evidence-based training.
Well-trained budtenders are also good for the dispensaries, as customers will keep coming back depending on the service they receive. There are plenty of online certificate programs, but it difficult to know which ones are actually providing the training that budtenders will need.
Other “essential” staff, according to one online resource, are a manager, office staff, and security guards.
In addition to investing in staffing and training, launching a dispensary can require a significant amount of capital upfront for inventory, a year’s rent, and other expenses. In 2019, cannabis industry software provider Cova estimated startup costs could range between $250,000 to $2 million dollars, depending on the jurisdiction and its requirements. Pennsylvania, for example, requires that the operator have $2 million in assets and $500,000 in liquid cash. In DC, ABRA awards as many as 10 points for business plans that detail immediate and long-term financing and financial feasibility.
Medical cannabis has been legal in the District since the “Legalization of Marijuana for Medical Treatment Amendment Act of 2010” went into effect on July 27th of that year. There are currently seven dispensaries in DC. Wards 3 and 5 are the only ones without a dispensary.
In 2018, doctoral candidates at the University of Albany SUNY School of Criminal Justice studied the DC dispensaries and whether they increased crime in their immediate neighborhoods. Their research, published in the Journal of Crime and Justice in 2019, found crime decreased or remained constant near all but one location.