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Seeds of change, indeed: DC having unprecedented pot-growing giveaway

The District is about to witness a massive, public drug deal on Thursday — and for those involved, it will be quite a bargain.

Over 800 people have confirmed attendance at a giveaway of marijuana seeds Thursday night at an Adams Morgan restaurant. The event appears unprecedented and likely to scatter the makings of more than 16,000 marijuana plants across the nation’s capital.

D.C. police plan to stay clear of the spectacle — except to direct traffic, if needed.

Organizers, meanwhile, say they hope to launch a wave of home growth and use of pot so D.C. residents can take advantage of a ballot measure approved by voters last fall that legalized possession of the plant.

The District is unique among states where possession and use have become legal, because sales remain against the law. That’s one reason that a seed giveaway — and not an opening of stores for legal sales, as has happened in Colorado and Washington state — is marking the kickoff.

Under a prohibition placed on the District by Congress, buying and selling marijuana in the capital city remains illegal. Sharing, carrying, growing and smoking, at least out of public view, are allowed.

An attendee signs up for a seed exchange event during a ComfyTree Cannabis Academy conference Feb. 28, 2015 in Washington, D.C. (Alex Wong, Getty Images)

Thanks to Congress, the District also has no ability to track the seedlings that could come from Thursday’s event and are expected to feed a gray market for bartering and other attempts to profit off legalization.

In Colorado, every marijuana seedling raised for the commercial sale of pot is tracked with a 24-digit radio frequency identification tag. Sales are heavily taxed by the state, and the money goes mostly to education. In the District, thousands of plants could soon begin growing with no such oversight or benefit to the city.

Proponents of the ballot measure counter that a crop from amateur growers could increase supply and drive down the market for illegal street sales.

Home growth was also clearly part of the ballot measure, known as Initiative 71, that voters approved in November. The measure allowed for home cultivation of six seedlings per person, with three mature plants allowable at any one time. The limit per household is 12 plants.

Growing pot in publicly subsidized housing complexes remains illegal in the city under federal law.

“Home growth is what 70 percent of voters approved,” said Adam Eidinger, head of the D.C. Cannabis Campaign. Eidinger predicted a festive scene Thursday, as well as at a second seed giveaway that the campaign is hosting on Saturday. “It’s going to be a carnival,” he said.

Animal-rights protesters, pizza trucks and politicians are expected Thursday evening at the seed giveaway in the Northwest neighborhood of Adams Morgan.

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The event is being hosted at Libertine bar and restaurant. Eidinger said about 45 people have agreed to bring seeds to share. Thousands have already been divvied up by different genetic strands into bags of 10 to 20 seeds each. The seeds will be arrayed on tables on the bar’s second floor, and a line will form outside to cycle through and take a share.

While the event marks the beginning of public use of Initiative 71, it also amounts to the curtain call for the successful campaign pushed by Eidinger and other hard-core advocates for marijuana legalization in the District.

Under city election laws, the campaign must disband this spring and may no longer organize public events. Eidinger said he wishes it could remain intact to continue defending the law to critics. But Eidinger plans to form a new community group to continue promoting safe marijuana use, and he will continue to press members of Congress to allow the city to set up a system to tax and regulate pot like other states.

Of the seed giveaway, “Once the campaign is over, we won’t be doing this every year,” Eidinger said. “This is a one-time deal.”

Here’s Why People Were Essentially Giving Out Free Weed in Washington, DC

If you happened to be walking down 18th Street in Washington, DC on Thursday, you would have noticed an unusually long line of people patiently waiting outside of a bar on an otherwise quiet afternoon.

"Its almost as if they're giving away free weed in there," a passerby remarked casually.

That is, in effect, exactly what was happening.

Cannabis for personal use became legal in the nation's capital a month ago. To celebrate the milestone, the DC Cannabis Campaign — the group that helped push the voter-approved legalization initiative — organized the city's first ever "seed share," which was hosted by a small absinthe bar in the Adams Morgan neighborhood.

Hundreds of people waited for hours to enter the bar and give away seeds, obtain them from others, or just see what a truly free and legal marijuana share looks like.

"This is an experiment in democracy — and horticulture," a man in line, who did not want to give his name, told VICE News.

Adam Eidinger, the chair of the DC Cannabis Campaign, told VICE News that about 2,000 people had RSVP'd for the event, which he attributed to "huge grassroots support."

Under Initiative 71, adults 21 and older can possess up to two ounces of marijuana and grow between three and six mature plants in their home, depending on the number of adults in the household. DC residents cannot, however, legally sell buds, plants, or seeds — only "share" or gift them.

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In other words, you can smoke your pals up (in the privacy of someone's home) and dole out as much as an ounce of the chronic to a friend, but you can't legally exchange money, goods, or services for it.

This is where Thursday's seed exchange comes in.

"We know that not everyone has friends who have seeds available to share," the DC Cannabis Campaign said in a statement announcing the endeavor, which was intended to "facilitate personal home cultivation of cannabis permitted under the new law."

Inside the absinthe bar, the atmosphere buzzed with barely contained excitement. Dozens of people who had brought seeds set out their offerings on tables and freely handed out baggies to people passing through.

Only adults 21 and over were permitted into the venue, no one could carry more than two ounces of cannabis (including seeds) at any time, and most importantly, no money or goods were allowed to change hands inside while sharing seeds.

Alex Jeffrey, executive director of the marijuana reform group DC NORML, told VICE News that members of his organization arrived at the event with "thousands of seeds" that they were happily giving away without problem.

"It's been really chaotic, but it's been amazing to see all these people that showed up," Jeffrey said. "Everyone is abiding by the law, and everyone is having a good time."

Individuals were also chipping in seeds and joining the fun.

"I have plenty of my own, so I figured I'd share the wealth," a man who gave his name as Ty told VICE News. "Nothing in exchange. I figured I'd just share the love."

Pot growers handed out pamphlets explaining how to successfully plant and grow cannabis seeds, and a pizza place across the street got in on the action by giving out free slices.

Thursday's event was billed as the first legal seed exchange, and it will be followed by a second share event on Saturday at the headquarters of DC Cannabis Campaign.

Yesterday's attendees were keen to note that it was another element of the emergent "sharing economy" that has been popularized by companies like Uber and Airbnb, and could make a dent in the illegal drug market.

"It's a gifting economy. It changes the dynamic of the space," Eidinger said. "The people who are sharing seeds also have the belief that we need to end the underground economy."

Taxation Without Representation
To other attendees, however, the event was less about marijuana legalization and more about DC's authority to create its own laws. As a federal district, the capital's local laws are subject to congressional oversight.

"This is about self-determination, freedom, and liberty," DC resident Kurt Moriah told VICE News while waiting in line.

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"This has always been about [DC autonomy] for me," a native Washingtonian named Eric remarked. "We're the last bastion of taxation without representation," he added, referring to the fact that DC does not have voting representation in Congress.

An overwhelming 70 percent of the city's voters approved Initiative 71 last November, but the mandatory 30-day congressional review period was contentious, as opponents of legalization on Capitol Hill blocked funding to prevent the measure from being enacted.

This is why there is no mechanism in the city to regulate or tax cannabis as originally planned. City officials were defiant, however, arguing that legalization had been enacted by the approval of voters. When Initiative 71 became law in late February, the awkward arrangement effectively created the nation's first unregulated cannabis zone.

The lack of regulation might be disquieting to some, but Eidinger is not worried about it.

"There is no strain of marijuana that is deadly," he said, adding that many people who use medical marijuana, which DC legalized in 2010, prefer to grow their own but do not know where to legally get seeds. "So if you have absolutely no access to seeds and you can't travel, you're low-income, this is a really cool event for you."

The gray area surrounding weed in DC is unique. In states that have legalized marijuana such as Colorado and Washington, marijuana is highly regulated, tracked, and taxed extensively.

This will likely end up happening in DC as well, said Eidinger. City lawmakers expect to set up a system that would tax legal marijuana and allow for the creation of dispensaries once Congress passes a new spending bill without a rider attached to it that bars funding for regulation.

"Right now it's like the wild west," a young man named Tyler told VICE News. "Hopefully Congress will see that they should at least control it in some way."

Those looking to make money off of a nascent cannabis market in DC, meanwhile, are lying in wait.

"There are a lot of businesses looking to cash in on this industry," a legalization advocate named Daniel Lily told VICE News at the event. "The reality is they are standing on the backs of a lot of activists who have fought and worked very hard to push this message through."

Follow Olivia Becker on Twitter: @obecker928 Photos by Olivia Becker/VICE News

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