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Amid controversy, D.C. marijuana law goes into effect

WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Thursday at midnight, for the first time in his life, Allen St. Pierre got legally stoned.

While St. Pierre, executive director of NORML, a national advocacy group for the legalization of marijuana, said he possessed illegal marijuana for his entire adult life, he celebrated when Initiative 71, Washington, D.C.’s ballot measure to legalize marijuana went into effect by not only lighting up, but also by planting his own cannabis seeds.

“In D.C., it was clear this initiative was going to pass,” St. Pierre said, referring to last November’s referendum when marijuana legalization was approved with 70 percent of the vote. “We did volunteer call outs in the two weeks leading up to the vote, but there was no cajoling necessary to get it to pass.”

Initiative 71 makes it legal for anyone over 21 in Washington, D.C. to possess up to two ounces of marijuana and to grow up to six marijuana plants in their homes. The marijuana must be consumed on private property and cannot be sold, but rather must be traded or shared.

After much dispute between Congress and the D.C. Council on whether possession of marijuana in Washington, D.C. is legal (and whether the federal or local government has power to determine that), the law went into effect at 12:01 a.m. Thursday with Mayor Muriel Bowser’s blessing.

Despite legalization of marijuana possession in the District, the D.C. Council is still working on rules and regulations for the marijuana industry. However, this will take time, in part because the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which oversees the D.C. government, opposes the law and attempted to use the federal spending bill passed in December to block it.

“The interplay between D.C. laws and Congress is for the most part preventing them from taking any action on that sort of legislation,” Robert Capecchi, deputy director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, said.

Rep. Andy Harris, R-Cockeysville, is one of the members of the oversight committee firmly against the measure.

“Congress took clear action to stop enactment of legalization of marijuana in D.C.,” Harris said. “I agree with my colleagues at the oversight committee that any movement to legalize marijuana in D.C. is a willful violation of the law.”

St. Pierre said the committee’s opposition was bizarre.

“It is a script for a comedy series or at least a comedy plot on Saturday Night Live,” St. Pierre said. “How dare [Congress] lash out at these elected officials who turned to 70 percent of their voters.”

Both St. Pierre and Capecchi praised Bowser and the D.C. Council for continuing with implementation of Initiative 71 despite Congress’s qualms.

“I think they’ve been wonderfully courageous,” Capecchi said. “I think they saw through the bologna and stood up for their constituents.”

Despite attempts to block D.C. from allowing marijuana sales, advocates and businesses are already planning for the days when selling and buying pot is legal in the District.

ComfyTree, a cannabis education and entrepreneurship group, will host a Cannabis Expo and Job Fair Saturday and Sunday at the Holiday Inn Capitol to teach locals about growing marijuana and to help them find jobs in the industry.

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“We want to give useful information to people, but to not make them pay an arm and a leg for it,” Tiffany Bowden, ComfyTree co-founder and chief happiness officer said.

And while ComfyTree will work to educate locals, the Drug Policy Alliance is working to advocate for marijuana taxation that is grounded in racial justice, Dr. Malik Burnett, a policy manager at the group said.

Burnett said the alliance wants legislation to include people with criminal records in the new marijuana marketplace. The group is also advocating for revenues generated by marijuana taxation to go to the Office of Returning Citizens and to after school programs in wards 7 and 8.

“Revenues generated from the sale of marijuana should be used to restore the harms caused to communities of color by the war on drugs,” Malik said. “We want money to go toward helping formerly incarcerated individuals returning to the community.”

Instead of celebrating legalization by lighting up like St. Pierre, Burnett spent early Thursday morning riding around D.C. with the Metropolitan Police Department to see how the legislation was being implemented.

After a quiet day, the department made two arrests late Thursday afternoon for possession with intent to distribute marijuana, Lt. Sean Conboy of the Metropolitan Police Department Public Information Office said at 7:50 p.m.

“The point that I made to the officers is that the sky hasn’t fallen,” Burnett said. “[Their] lives are largely the same as they were. They laughed and were largely in agreement.”

By Alicia McElhaney/Capital News Service
Capital News Service is a flagship program of the VCU’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students participating in the program provide state government coverage for Virginia’s community newspapers and other media outlets, under the supervision of Associate Professor Jeff South.

Cannabis seeds for sale washington dc

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Washington, D.C. has a unique cannabis culture that’s unlike in any other state. Even though selling marijuana is still prohibited in the Nation’s Capital, there is a “gifting” and pot delivery industry that exists in a gray legal area that makes pot as readily available to everyone. This has made DC one of the most thriving markets on the East Coast.

The state’s home cultivation and marijuana tourism scene have flourished since legalization in 2015. Pot activists in the state freely grow and give away marijuana clones and seeds to those who wish to grow. There are also more than 300 cannabis-related businesses profiting from the legal loophole in Washington DC’s marijuana laws by “gifting” weed along with various products and services. This market rakes in millions every year but remains untaxed because of congressional interference.

However, this may soon change, oddly enough because of the coronavirus pandemic. Last year, Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton renewed the call for the commercialization of adult-use marijuana, imploring Congress to repeal the D.C. recreational marijuana commercialization rider in the next COVID-related relief bill. The congresswoman pointed out that residents are already able to buy the legal limit of 2 ounces in the black market but the District government is unable to tax it at a time when the jurisdiction is in dire need of funds because of the coronavirus outbreak.

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Stakeholders in the marijuana industry also predict that DC may see cannabis sales as early as this year now that Democrats have taken control of both chambers of Congress. Medical marijuana companies in the state also have a positive outlook now that the new regulator, the Alcoholic Beverage Regulatory Agency (ABRA) moved to boost medical marijuana patient counts and may likely play a role in launching a new recreational cannabis program if ever.

This article was reviewed and updated in 2021.

Overview of Cannabis Growing Laws in Washington, D.C.

Medical and recreational home cultivation is legal under Washington DC’s marijuana laws. Interestingly, the law only defined a cultivation limit under Initiative 71.

  • DC residents aged 21 and older may grow up to 6 marijuana plants but only 3 should be mature at a given time.
  • Only up to 12 plants can be grown in a residence and only 6 can be mature at a given time, regardless of the number of adults living there.

Before DC legalized recreational marijuana, the law did not clearly define the number of medical marijuana plants that can be grown at home. However, it did allow patients to have access to a “sufficient quantity” of marijuana under the recommendation of a physician and gave them protection for cultivating their own supply.

This was last updated in June 2020. We will be updating this guide with new developments that may come out.

Punishments for Violating Washington, D.C.’s Home Grow Laws

The penalties for violating DC’s growing laws are as follows:

  • Exceeding the growing limit is punishable by 6 months imprisonment and a maximum fine of up to $1000, or both. Second offenders will get 2 years of jail time and a maximum fine of up to $5000, or both.
  • However, if the intent to sell is proven, the penalty can go up to 5 years imprisonment and a maximum fine of up to $50,000.

History of marijuana in Washington, D.C.

DC may have one of the most vibrant cannabis cultures in the US, but it was actually one of the first states to impose a form of restriction on cannabis drugs by requiring a prescription in 1906. However, the nation’s capital was always at the forefront of marijuana reform, legalizing medical marijuana as early as 1998. Under Initiative 59, seriously ill residents were allowed to use cannabis for medical treatment with the recommendation of a licensed physician but congressional interference in the form of the Barr Amendment blocked its implementation. After a long-drawn legal battle, the Senate and House of Representatives finally voted to lift the ban on a medical marijuana initiative in 2009.

On March 4, 2014, the Council of the District of Columbia voted to decriminalize marijuana possession. This was once again blocked by Congress through another provision. Nevertheless, Initiative 71 was voted on and approved in the same year. In 2015, the “Legalization of Possession of Minimal Amounts of Marijuana for Personal Use Act of 2014” went into effect, allowing DC residents 21 and older to possess, cultivate, give, but not sell marijuana.

Growing Medical Marijuana in Washington, D.C

Because of Initiative 71, the growing limits for medical and recreational marijuana are now the same. However, medical marijuana cardholders can buy at dispensaries and have more legal protection. It is also the only legal way for minors to use cannabis to treat their debilitating conditions.

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Patients with qualifying debilitating conditions may apply using the DC Health Department’s Patient Application Package or the Minor Patient Application Package . Likewise, caregivers have their own application form . Here is a list of requirements that applicants need to submit with their completed forms.

Requirements

  • 2 recent passport photos (2”x2”)
  • A copy of a federal, state, or district-issued ID
  • Copies of 2 forms of proof of residency. This can be any of the following:
    • Proof of payment of DC personal income tax
    • A property deed for a DC residence showing the applicant as owner or co-owner
    • An unexpired lease or rental agreement in the name of the applicant on a DC residential property
    • A pay stub issued less than forty-five (45) days prior to the application date showing the applicant’s withholding of District income tax
    • A DC voter registration card
    • Current official documentation of financial assistance from the District Government.
    • A current motor vehicle registration in the name of the applicant showing DC residency
    • A District motor vehicle operator’s permit or other official non-driver identification with the applicant’s name
    • A utility bill (excluding telephone bill) from a period within the two (2) months preceding the application date with the applicant’s name on a DC residential address
    • Electronic Healthcare Practitioner Recommendation
    • Caregiver application form (if designating a caregiver). Required for minor patients.
    • For applicants who want to avail of reduced fees, a copy of either of the following:
      • Proof of being a current Medicaid or DC Alliance recipient
      • Document proving the applicant’s total income is equal to or less than 200% of the federal poverty level.

      Completed application forms and requirements may be mailed to the DC Health Medical Marijuana Program or processed online . The application fee is $100 but can be reduced to $25 if the patient can provide proof of low income.

      Marijuana home cultivation laws outside of Washington, D.C.

      How does Washington DC’s marijuana laws compare with home growing laws in other US states? Check out our post on Marijuana Growing Laws in the United States.

      FAQs about growing marijuana in Washington, D.C.

      Yes, it is legal to cultivate cannabis for recreational purposes at home in Washington, D.C.

      You may grow up to 6 marijuana plants but only 3 should be mature at a given time.
      Only up to 12 plants can be grown in a residence and only 6 can be mature at a given time, regardless of the number of adults living there.

      Yes, it is legal to cultivate medical cannabis at home in Washington, D.C.

      The home growing limit for recreational and medical cannabis is the same in Washington, D.C.: 3 mature, 3 immature plants.

      On your property, in a locked space where you can keep your plants away from public view.

      Growers have to be at least 21 to be able to cultivate marijuana legally in Washington, D.C.

      Conclusion

      Although Washington DC’s marijuana laws aren’t as generous as, say, Rhode Island’s, it is sufficient. It is also likely that most growers exceed this limit anyway, seeing how weed is so readily available in the state. Nevertheless, DC residents who are just getting into home cultivation should be aware of the following things: