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Learning the highs and lows of D.C.’s medical marijuana lingo

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As recreational marijuana sales prosper in Maryland, medical dispensaries in D.C. jump through hoops Perspective by Courtland Milloy - Columnist

During a recent tour of a medical marijuana dispensary in Southeast Washington, called Anacostia Organics, I received a primer on the nomenclature of legal store-bought pot. Correction: It’s not called “pot” anymore. Fast, informative and written just for locals. Get The 7 DMV newsletter in your inbox every weekday morning. Linda Mercado Greene, the owner and CEO, and Ikeya Haight, director of facilities, led me to a glass-enclosed display case, called the “flower station.” Inside was a row of buds marked “sativas” and “indicas.”

You could ask for one of those strains or a hybrid containing both. But don’t call it “reefer.”

“Sativas are good for energy, very uplifting,” Haight said. “Indica is a body high, good for pain and sleep.”

Greene added: “We did not know anything about this back in the day.”

We’ve come a long way from the “war on drugs” that once dominated crime-fighting in the region. Back in the day, after the Vietnam War, we learned about a strain called Thai Sticks. In the 1970s and early ’80s, I recall a guy who used to stand at 14th and Chapin streets NW, shouting, “Gold, gold, got that gold.” That’s how quite a few people learned about Acapulco Gold, a popular Mexican blend.

But then came a U.S.-backed plan to eradicate marijuana in Mexico by spraying the plants with a toxic herbicide called paraquat. Closer to home, D.C. police intensified their use of “jump-out squads” to catch those dealing in “nickel” ($5) and “dime” ($10) bags of herb. (Which weren’t always indica or sativa, but sometimes just dusty twigs, seeds and spider mites.)

A genetic descendant of Acapulco Gold reportedly survived and became known among growers as Skunk No. 1. It has since been developed into countless Skunk varieties, all potent and quite popular, judging from the prevalence of a certain dead-skunk smell on city streets.

It’s different at the Anacostia Organics flower station, where each bud was in a small container that had a magnifying glass on top.

“You can get a close-up look at the characteristics of the plant, like the terpenes,” Greene said.

The terpenes are contained in tiny, hairlike structures on the surface of the buds and leaves and give marijuana its unique odor.

Some marijuana marketers claim that a terpene called caryophyllene provides a “peppery, wood and spice” aroma. However, the National Toxicology Program at the National Institutes of Health has described the smell of caryophyllene as “midway between the odor of cloves and turpentine.”

That is skunk.

There have been debates over whether marijuana smoke inside an apartment building is any more annoying than, say, a spicy curry simmering on a stove all day or a pungent pot of chitterlings. A better comparison would be to the “corpse flower” at the U.S. Botanic Garden on the National Mall, so named because it smells like rotting flesh.

Haight led the way to another display case containing tinctures — oil- or alcohol-based substances that you place under your tongue in drops.

“Not everyone wants to smoke,” she said. “We have other options.”

Anacostia Organics has been in business for nearly five years and is one of six licensed dispensaries operating in the District. Greene, who lives two blocks from work, is one of only a few Black women in the country who own a medical marijuana dispensary. Her leadership team, including Haight and Tamia Harper, the general manager, are also Black women. That, too, is extremely rare.

Pioneering such a business has included an arduous push to create a new regulatory agency, now called the Alcoholic Beverage and Cannabis Administration. Before that, marijuana dispensaries were regulated by the D.C. Department of Health.

“When I started out, there were so many barriers,” Greene recalled. “To get a medical card, doctors would charge anywhere from $75 to $400 in addition to the $100 that the city was charging for the actual card. It was discriminatory. So, we got that changed.”

A founding member and former chair of the D.C. Cannabis Trade Association, she lobbied hard to end drug testing for most D.C. government employees and hopes to extend the policy so that District emergency medical technicians can use cannabis when they are off duty.

“Better than drinking a gallon of Jack Daniel’s to relax,” Greene said.

Today, anyone who is at least 21 and has $30 can get a temporary D.C. medical card, good for 30 days. (The fee might be waived for D.C. residents.) It’s progress. But Greene is far from satisfied.

In 2014, D.C. became one of the first jurisdictions on the East Coast to vote to legalize recreational marijuana. But because of the power that Congress still holds over the District’s budget, any congressman can gum up the works by withholding funding needed to implement a new law.

Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.), a physician representing the Eastern Shore, has blocked efforts to implement the sale of recreational marijuana for nearly 10 years. Meanwhile, in July, Maryland began licensing medical marijuana dispensaries to sell recreational marijuana. No medical card required, just a valid identification.

Business at Maryland’s dispensaries, including those in Harris’s district, have been booming ever since.

“People from D.C. began going to Maryland because they could buy marijuana without spending $30 for a medical card,” Greene said. (That is legal, although carrying marijuana across state lines is a federal offense.)

Referring to the impact of the new Maryland law on the legal marijuana business in D.C., Greene said, “It’s kicking our butts, but we hope things will even out soon.”

Meanwhile, she does have an array of products to help her chill out after a stressful day. There are edibles — sea-salt chocolates and honeys infused with CBD and THC — along with salves, creams, gels and bath soaps.

“I use the bath soaps every day,” Greene said. “It’s mostly CBD, but it pulls the tension right out of your body. And if you’re not a bather, you can soak your feet, and all of the nerves become relaxed.”

She said she doesn’t smoke but noted that the dispensary carries grams and ounces of buds, trim and shake (residuals used mostly for baking) — ranging from $18 to $182. Knowledgeable customers can mix and match substances to create a multitude of experiences, from promoting sleep to stimulating sensuality, she said.

“We’ve got Mike Tyson’s Mega Runtz and Cherry Diesel,” Greene said. “We’ve got Bruce Banner, Gelato Cake and Tropicana Viper Cookies.”

Just don’t ask for weed.