Marijuana Sellers Skirting the Law in District of Cannabis
WASHINGTON (AP) — It’s hard to justify $45 for an ordinary black cotton T-shirt, but the customer at a store in Washington D.C.’s Adams Morgan neighborhood does so without question.
The clerk grabs a clear plastic box containing about one gram of marijuana and drops it into the bag, reciting a practiced line: “Thank you and here’s a gift for you to have as a souvenir.”
It’s another satisfied customer in the so-called District of Cannabis, the unique legal and commercial space spawned by the District of Columbia’s unusual approach to marijuana legalization.
A 2014 ballot initiative to legalize recreational use passed overwhelmingly. But unlike the eight states that have legalized recreational use, the Washington initiative also maintained it was still illegal to buy or sell the drug.
So instead of the straightforward marijuana storefronts common in Colorado or Nevada, Washington has developed a thriving “gift economy” marijuana industry. These businesses--many offering delivery--sell everything from coffee cups to artwork--all overpriced and all coming with a little something extra.
It’s a curious legal and semantic tightrope, and one the District’s politicians and police seem determined to keep walking.
“It’s definitely unique,” said Morgan Fox of the pro-legalization Marijuana Policy Project. “The DC city council and the city government don’t want to be busting people for weed. They want this to work and work smoothly.”
Washington’s local government didn’t choose to make the District a real-time sociology lab for alternative legalization. The roots of this strange legal middle ground lie in the District’s tortured relationship with the federal government.
“We would have regular stores if we had the normal rights of a U.S. state,” said Nikolas Schiller, co-founder of DCMJ, a pro-legalization group that helped draft the initiative’s text.
All District laws are subject to review by a congressional committee, which can veto them or alter them by attaching riders to federal appropriations bills. After the initiative passed, Rep. Andy Harris, a Republican from neighboring Maryland, introduced a rider prohibiting the District government from spending any funds or resources on developing a regulatory or taxation system for marijuana sales.
Harris, an anesthesiologist and member of the conservative Freedom Caucus, remains a staunch opponent of recreational marijuana use and has no regrets about complicating the District’s legalization model.
“I think the District of Columbia made a bad decision,” Harris said in an interview. “I would hope the District comes to its senses and realizes the dangers.”
According to marijuana merchants, the change has resulted in spiraling supply and demand. The relative ease of availability without risking arrest or having to maintain a relationship with a dealer has brought a wave of consumers of all ages and demographics. And that wave of demand has brought a wave of new suppliers.
In addition to the dozens of different businesses working through the gift loophole, there are now hundreds of marijuana-themed public events taking place across the city — most openly advertised on social media.