WASHINGTON — The Popeyes on 8th Street Southeast sells the typical fare of fried chicken and biscuits, but the space upstairs from the fast food restaurant will soon sell something a little more unusual and a lot more green.

A mere two miles from the U.S. Department of Justice, Metropolitan Wellness Center, one of three medical marijuana dispensaries preparing to open in the district within the next few months, will sell dried cannabis, edibles and paraphernalia to qualifying individuals.

Proponents say medical marijuana can help patients manage pain and deal with other symptoms of diseases such as cancer. But marijuana is still illegal under federal law.

“It’s hilarious, isn’t it?” said Vanessa West, Metropolitan Wellness Center’s general manager. “It’s funny, the public has it in their heads that people are going to be up here smoking and then going downstairs to eat chicken.”

Medical marijuana was approved in the district in 1998, though Congress, which controls the city’s budget, blocked implementation until recently.

Despite pot’s illegal status federally, 19 states, most recently Maryland, have passed legislation allowing the distribution of medical marijuana. Voters in both Colorado and Washington state passed referendums in November al-lowing the recreational use of pot.

Maryland’s law, which Gov. Martin O’Malley signed Thursday, will allow academic medical centers, designated by a commission within the state’s Department of Mental Health and Hygiene, to distribute marijuana to patients who have received a recommendation from their physician.

The law will take effect Oct. 1, although the bill’s sponsor, Delegate Dan Morhaim, D-Baltimore County, has estimated it will take a couple of years before treatment will become available.

Marijuana has had its place on the federal government’s Schedule 1 listing of illegal substances without a known medical use and a high potential for abuse since 1970 as part of the Controlled Substances Act.

“The fact that the District of Columbia can pass it legally, and the District of Columbia is in the land of the federal government ... is a contradiction and it speaks to the fact that federal law needs to sort of get on board with what more states are saying,” West said.

The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy referred calls for comment to the Department of Justice. Officials at the Department of Justice could not be reached for comment.

For the first time in more than four decades, a majority of Americans are for the legalization of marijuana. According to a recent poll by the Pew Research Center, 52 percent of  are for legalizing pot.

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