Medical Marijuana Makeover

Pat Hawkins and the staff at Capital City Care take on misconceptions of medical marijuana in the District

By John Riley
Photography by Todd Franson
Published on April 18, 2013, 9:36am | Comments

Pat Hawkins is trying to remake the image of medical marijuana as the District prepares to make it a reality.

Hawkins, a clinical social worker, psychologist and former substance-abuse treatment counselor who has long been involved in health care advocacy, particularly around HIV/AIDS, sees the District as potentially a model for how to administer a medical-marijuana program for severely sick patients.

Pat Hawkins of Capital City Care

Pat Hawkins of Capital City Care

(Photo by Todd Franson)

Speaking to Metro Weekly in an interview at Capital City Care, which is set to open this month as the first of five planned medical-marijuana dispensaries in the District, Hawkins says D.C.'s program will be heavily regulated, with each patient able to obtain only 2 ounces of marijuana in any 30-day period, and only from a single, pre-designated dispensary. Only patients or pre-designated caregivers with District-issued identification cards will have access to the dispensaries – guarded by security officers and monitored by the Metropolitan Police Department via surveillance cameras. Hawkins emphasizes there will be a focus on the science of how prescribed cannabinoids are affecting patients' health.

Furthermore, Hawkins adds, not everyone who applies for medical marijuana will be approved. Instead, the program is limited to those suffering from HIV/AIDS, cancer, glaucoma and severe muscle-spasm conditions such as multiple sclerosis. She also points out that clients who qualify for medical marijuana will not be able to get it unless they can prove they have been in regular contact with their primary doctor and have been following a treatment regimen.

''Some people have been disappointed, saying, 'I have really bad migraine headaches,' and I said, 'No, it's not going to work like that,''' Hawkins says, laughing. ''It's really a much different focus than, 'Let's all get high together.' My issue is, if I can improve treatment adherence, thereby improving clinical outcomes, that's the biggest goal for me.''

''It's true, so many people come by because they hear about the other programs in other jurisdictions and assume ours mimics that,'' chimes in David Guard, the executive director of Capital City Care. His colleague, Scott Morgan, interjects to add that even in applying for a medical-marijuana identification card, the qualifying criteria are clearly listed.

Despite many states making moves to legalize medical marijuana, Hawkins says the idea of using the drug has been maligned in such a way that people often assume it's a back door to engaging in illicit drug use, citing some ''horror stories'' she's heard of from other states, particularly California.

''It's to everybody's advantage if we can prove this here in D.C. and get this away from the California recreational model, and get people to understand it's a medical model,'' Hawkins says. ''That's an incredible advantage.''

''This is not a grungy, nasty-looking place,'' Hawkins continues, gesturing around the offices of Capital City Care, similar to a doctor's office with freshly painted white walls, comfortable couches and designated stations where staffers will carefully measure patients' prescriptions. ''I think people have these images in their head, even the neighbors, because we were testifying at the [Advisory Neighborhood Commission], and people say, 'Oh, it's going to bring more crime,' and, 'People are going to be smoking on the steps.' The last place anyone is going to be smoking is going to be near these cameras, because there are a million cameras around, and the police are monitoring the feed.''

Hawkins grants, however, that she understands that some constituents may be wary of medical-marijuana facilities, but likens the experience to the outrage over needle-exchange programs aimed at combating HIV/AIDS and other diseases among IV drug users, a concept that was gradually accepted and has since been heralded for helping to reduce HIV infection rates in the city.

''This city has always been very sensitive to drugs, because we have such an enormous drug problem, and always have. But once they see it, I think all the opposition is going to melt away, like it did with needle exchange.''

Hawkins also notes that if the District is able to provide a clean, efficient, and effective model of administering medical marijuana to patients with severe illnesses or medical conditions, other states, like Maryland, will likely follow suit.

''I think next year we'll see bills in Maryland to do the same thing,'' she says. ''There's been a lot of talk in Maryland already, and I think they'll move on it, but first they want to see that we get it right.''

For more information, visit Capital City Care, 1334 N. Capitol St. NW, online at capitalcitycare.com.