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August 7th, 2013
06:07 PM ET

Medical marijuana slowly growing on D.C. residents

Medical marijuana is now for sale in Washington, just blocks from the  Capitol. Yet these dispensaries are operating under tricky circumstances.

Owners Capital City Care say they are operating under the nation's strictest medical marijuana rules.

With names like Master Kush, Blue Dream and Jack Herer - the for-profit dispensary sells what it calls high quality "medical cannabis."

"It only applies for people who have cancer, AIDS/HIV, spasticity disorders like MS, things like that, and glaucoma," said Capital City Care owner David Guard. "To really qualify you have to be a very, very sick individual."

It takes a recommendation from a D.C.-based doctor, who treats those patients regularly. They can also buy the pipes, rolling papers, and vaporizers they need to use the medical marijuana at the dispensary.

The District of Columbia joins 20 states that have made smoking marijuana for medical purposes legal.

But marijuana is still illegal under federal law, and neither Congress nor the Drug Enforcement Agency look poised to change that any time soon.

A 2009 Justice Department memo said prosecuting medical marijuana users was not a priority, but two years later, another memo stressed that distributing it is illegal regardless of state law.

Crackdowns on medical marijuana providers in states like Washington and California are proof that selling weed, for any reason, is risky business.

"You can lose all of your assets. It can be subject to seizure by the DEA, or other federal entities. But more importantly, you can lose your liberty. You can wind up being put in federal prison for many years operating a medical marijuana dispensary," said Michael Barnes, of the law firm DCBA Law & Policy.

For now, Capital City Care has high hopes that D.C.'s medical marijuana program can change minds where it counts.

"I think that we're running here a very tightly run program, one that's serving a community that's been under served for far too long. And I think that, you know, when it's in your backyard, it can help you think through the issues and maybe a little bit clearer," said Guard.

An administration official who deals with drug policy told CNN that while the administration is against smoking marijuana in its raw form for medicinal purposes, the government does support research into drugs that use the active ingredients in marijuana in a safer way, like in pill form.

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