Soon after DC’s legalization of medical cannabis, Linda Mercado Greene and her friends began brainstorming ways they could get involved in the industry. Greene, a seasoned public relations professional, was no stranger to the ins and outs of DC’s political realm, but had no idea what to expect in the ever-changing and unconventionally regulated cannabis industry. What started as a light dinner conversation in 2014 soon turned into months of research, traveling and planning on how to secure a dispensary license in the nation’s capital.
Greene and her team quickly realized it wasn’t going to be as easy to break into the industry as they anticipated. Under the law, the District can award up to seven licenses for dispensaries and 10 for cultivators. explains Greene. All the cultivator licenses had been awarded, but only five of the seven dispensary licenses. “We had to go further into researching the demographics behind who was being awarded these (dispensary) licenses,” she says
Since the traditional licensing route was not going to be an option, Greene and her team began researching who was awarded the limited number of licenses, what they had done with the licenses and whether the licenses were being evenly distributed throughout the city. They found that while five of the licensees had either opened up shop or had immediate plans to do so, two of them were simply sitting on the licenses.
“The first thing we accomplished was convincing the DC Department of Health [DOH] to send letters of notice to those that hadn’t opened yet, either to find a location to open their business or give up their license,” says Greene.
Their research also indicated that while 25 percent of medical marijuana cardholders in DC were from Wards 7 and 8, there were no dispensaries located east of the river. “People were having to travel great lengths around the city through walking, buses and other forms of public transportation just to get their medicine,” explains Greene. “When we took this information to the mayor’s office and councilmembers, they were truly appalled.”
Greene and her team began helping to write legislation for the DOH that required at least one dispensary to be located east of the river. After this legislation was passed, Greene and her team began the laborious application process for their dispensary’s 2018 license.
Greene explains that in order to seek a dispensary license, an applicant must first have a lease to the location of the operation. The application must include a detailed security plan, a list of equipment that will be purchased, architectural drawings and a staffing plan, for starters. “After all was said and done,” says Greene, “our application ended up being over 400 pages.”
Greene hired experts to help write out each section of the application, which she credits for helping her secure the license, but it wasn’t time to celebrate just yet. Greene had to get various permits including those to begin building and historic permits, which were required for the area she was building on in Ward 8.
Greene held her first job fair in the District with the goal of hiring local residents to staff Anacostia Organics. “I made a promise to the community that I would hire all DC residents,” says Greene. “We had a tremendous outpouring of extremely diverse people from all over the area.”
Greene has dedicated her dispensary to bolstering the local community and arts scene. At the dispensary’s ribbon-cutting ceremony, Baba Melvin Deal and several African drummers in the community joined to celebrate. An African libation ceremony commemorated the new business, and Greene received an African last name which translates to “One who heals with herbs.”
Anacostia Organics is the only District dispensary to double as an art gallery. “We wanted to have a rotating art gallery for DC residents, but primarily for Ward 7 and 8 artists,” explains Greene. The dispensary is currently showcasing the work of Ward 7’s Marvin Bowser and local artist, Tendani Mpulubusi El, designed the Anacostia Organics logo.
While the dispensary opened its doors on Feb. 4, there is still much to be done to advance the legal cannabis movement. Greene continues to lobby to strengthen the industry’s banking system, to argue against the Drug Enforcement Agency’s Schedule I listing of marijuana and to advance the conversation around normalization.
“Washington is the capital of the nation, which means we should be ahead of the curve on these issues,” emphasizes Greene. “It is my job to bring more experience and knowledge to the city as we get ready to roll out recreational marijuana in order to make this process as seamless as possible.”
Greene’s current team at Anacostia Organics is comprised of full-time staff of DC residents who mostly reside in Wards 7 and 8. The dispensary’s board chair is attorney Sherri N. Blount, who has been a member of the District of Columbia Bar Association and practiced in the District for more than 30 years. The board’s secretary is Yolanda Caraway, an entrepreneur and public affairs professional who has over 30 years of experience. H. Marrel Foushee, a former tax and financial management government official, serves as the dispensary board’s treasurer.
Greene was honored at a Women Grow cannabis-networking event on March 1 as a trailblazer of the DC industry. She is also planning events at the National Cannabis Festival, as well as a Cannabis 101 workshop for the community and a book-signing event with Dr. Patricia Frye of Takoma Park Alternative Care.
To learn more about Anacostia Organics visit https://www.anacostiaorganics.com/.
Chloe Detrick is a communications consultant and freelance writer in the DC area. Most frequently, she writes about community events, female leadership and cannabis/drug policy. You can follow her writing and other ramblings on Twitter.