Washington, D.C. Passes Bill To Expand Medical Weed Sales
Local lawmakers in Washington, DC last week passed legislation to expand sales of medical marijuana, giving the city’s popular but unlicensed weed gift shops a path to the regulated market. The bill, which passed the D.C. County Council on Dec. 20, comes after Congress included an existing ban on regulated adult-use cannabis sales in the nation’s capital as part of a spending bill passed last week.
The bill significantly expands Washington, DC’s medical marijuana program, removing a cap on dispensaries and increasing the number of licensed cultivation facilities. The legislation also creates licenses for new types of cannabis businesses, including marijuana delivery services, online sales, educational programs such as cooking classes and dispensary cannabis consumption areas. Half of the new licenses will be reserved for social equity applicants, who are defined as DC residents who have low incomes, have spent time in prison or are related to someone who has been incarcerated for a cannabis-related offense or drugs.
Bill addresses DC’s weed gift shops
The legislation is designed to address the vast unregulated cannabis market in Washington, DC, where medical marijuana was legalized by local lawmakers in 2010. In 2014, voters approved Initiative 71, a ballot measure to legalize recreational marijuana. Under the measure, adults can possess up to two ounces of marijuana, are allowed to grow cannabis at home and can donate up to one ounce of weed to another adult. However, Congress, which has control over Washington’s budget, has refused to allow the city to spend money on regulating the sale of recreational marijuana.
The situation has led to dozens of businesses taking advantage of the I-71 gift offering to openly distribute cannabis from retail businesses. Under the scheme, businesses sell benign goods such as clothing or art, offering what appears to be a free gift of marijuana with purchase. Phil Mendelson, Chairman of the District of Columbia Council, estimates that the unregulated marijuana market in the nation’s capital is worth up to $600 million a year.
“There’s always going to be an advantage over the unlicensed and the unregulated: they don’t have to pay taxes, they don’t have to quality assurance,” Mendelson said in an interview with DCist/WAMU. “Congress is helping it by preventing us from fixing it. It’s a real public safety issue,” he said.
Patients can self-certify to use medical marijuana
The legislation passed last week also makes permanent an emergency measure passed earlier this year that allows adults to prove their suitability to use medical marijuana, eliminating a previous provision that required certification from a licensed physician. . At the time, Mendelson and several members also tried to pass bans on the gift industry, but faced opposition from a group of business owners. Legalizing shops so they could be regulated wasn’t possible under Congress’s ban, making allowing businesses to donate a path to the medical marijuana market an option popular with the county council majority.
“It will allow the district to be much healthier from a cannabis side,” said Terrence White, chairman of a group known as the Committee of 71 and owner of a gift shop. Washington Post. “It will allow us to do it ‘right,’ as I call it.”
The bill approved by the council last week gives existing operators 90 days to apply for a license to sell medical marijuana and prevents enforcement against gift shops for at least 315 days after the legislation takes effect. David Grosso, a former council member and current lobbyist for the DC Cannabis Trade Association, a group that represents licensed medical marijuana operators, said the law is a positive development for the industry.
“We would certainly like to see a level playing field across the board, and that hasn’t been the case for as long as [Initiative 71] people have acted illegally. And so we hope that this effort will bring them into the legal market and then treat them equally with us,” Grosso said. “And that means all the regulations that come with it, the fees you have to pay, the inspections you have to endure, all the restrictions about where you can find and everything like that that the current legal market has had to deal with for over ten years now, which is a huge burden for us.”
Norbert Pickett, owner of Cannabliss, one of seven licensed medical dispensaries located in the nation’s capital, agreed, saying the legislation is an opportunity to expand the medical marijuana market in Washington, D.C. and provide new opportunities for the patients.
“This gives patients more access to safe, tested cannabis,” he said. “It unifies the unregulated market and the legal market. For me, that’s a win.”
Mackenzie Mann, project manager for the gift industry trade group Generational Equity Movement, said the legislation from the district council is a drastic change for the cannabis landscape in Washington, DC.
“It’s surreal,” Mann said. “A year ago, they were trying to shut us down.”