Time Up for D.C. Shops That Gift Pot

Lori Ann Reese

Posted by Lori Ann Reese on 11/01/2021 in News

DC Cannabis Laws

If you have ever traveled to the District of Columbia as an adult (we’re not talking about your high school field trip), you know that the state likes to do things a little differently. And when it comes to cannabis laws in D.C., they are quite different. Conflicting, in fact, and more than a little confusing.

Residents or visitors over the age of twenty-one can possess up to two ounces of cannabis. No worries, you won’t get arrested for possessing it unless you try to spark up behind the statue of President Lincoln or other federal property.

But you can’t buy it unless you have a medical card. And you can’t sell it if you are a retail store or e-commerce, business owner. But you can give it away. Cannabis is also illegal to deliver to customers at home, but it happens all the time because of some gaps in the legislation about recreational cannabis in D.C.

Lawmakers have been on to the fact that the loophole exists. And they haven’t been happy about it, but they’ve also been remiss to change it until now. So, if you are used to traveling to D.C. and buying a great and overpriced souvenir with a side-order of the free pot as a gift, those days may be ending soon.

In the District of Columbia, there are some strong feelings about the recreational use of cannabis. Resistance to license recreational dispensaries in D.C. too. But people are still getting adult-use weed from vendors that are not state-licensed. And lawmakers are aiming to fix the problem as soon as possible.

The Gray Area of Selling Versus Gifting Cannabis in the District of Columbia

Laws are not perfect. And if you look, you can usually find some kind of legislative loophole, which is exactly how retailers have been selling cannabis in the District of Columbia for a long time. Because, technically, they haven’t been selling it at all.

Would you like to buy a t-shirt? It’s a little pricey at $100, but it comes with a quarter ounce of weed as a gift with purchase. See how that worked? Technically, the retailer wasn’t selling cannabis because it was a bonus for buying the shirt.

If that sounds a little weird, it actually is. But it was completely legal. You see, in the District of Columbia, cannabis was illegal to sell. But not illegal to give away. After the passing of Initiative 71 (2014), anyone over the age of twenty-one (21) years could possess up to two ounces of cannabis. And, according to the legislation, give away one ounce to another person.

Could you get in trouble for giving away cannabis in D.C.? Not if there was no money exchanged. So, you weren’t selling cannabis. Initiative 71 also made it legal to grow up to six (6) plants and have paraphernalia without any problems. You just couldn’t buy or sell weed. Or smoke it anywhere in public.

The ban on selling cannabis didn’t apply to patients with a medical card. And there are ample medical marijuana dispensaries in D.C. to serve patients. But if you didn’t qualify for a medical marijuana card, it was no big deal. You could also get gifted an ounce, or buy that t-shirt with the bonus weed, gratis.

DC Cannabis Laws Gift Cannabis

Delivery of Cannabis is Illegal in D.C. Unless You Get Free Pot with Another Purchase

The success of Amazon is the prime indicator that in the United States, we like ordering online for delivery. Whether it is household goods, supplies for our pets, groceries, or cannabis. If we can find a way to avoid going to a retail store, a little extra delivery fee is no hardship.

During the Covid-19 health emergency, the demand for delivery of all things went up astronomically. In the District of Columbia, recreational cannabis isn’t legal. Selling cannabis (unless you are a medical dispensary) is not permitted. But gifting it is.

And so, in the regulatory gray area, a whole new sector rapidly grew—home delivery of products, with a bonus gift of cannabis. In the era of Covid in all states, cannabis was the gift that kept giving. For both patients and recreational users looking for stress relief and more.

Here is where that gray area gets a little sketchy, though. Retailers were allowing consumers to choose what gift of cannabis they would receive. So, back to the t-shirt example online, you can pick the strain you want as your complimentary gift as you order your amazingly overpriced shirt. And retailers had a decent assortment of strains to choose from.

It is no wonder that lawmakers have a problem with the weed gift economy rapidly growing in D.C. And now, they are looking at solutions to put an end to it. Because while D.C. has resisted licensing adult-use dispensaries, a formal licensed retail location responsibly dispensing cannabis to adults is better than a fashion retailer doing it. With deliberate or intentional legal oversight at the point of sale at non-dispensary sites.

Proposed Legal Shift for Adult-Use Cannabis Sales in D.C.

There is an open hearing scheduled for November 19th, 2021. During the “Committee of the Whole, Judiciary & Public Safety & Business & Economic Development Public Hearing,” two critical pieces of legislation will be discussed.

1.       Bill 24-113 (Medical Cannabis Amendment Act of 2021)

2.       Bill 24-118 (Comprehensive Cannabis Legalization and Regulation Act of 2021

If you are a resident of D.C. or just interested in the hearings, you can watch them on the OCTFME site or the official Council website. The proceedings might be really interesting, as you hear the opposition to the legalization of recreational or adult-use cannabis in D.C. And there is going to be some opposition to it.

Based on the language of the bill summaries, it looks like adult use may be a possibility. Because Bill 27-113 would allow patients with a medical card to purchase cannabis products anywhere. From a recreational or a medical dispensary. But the real battle will be over Bill 24-118, which would legalize adult use in D.C.

The public, as well as industry and legal professionals, are invited to testify during the hearing. You can expect to hear patients and cannabis advocates express the need to make it easier to purchase medicinal products.

But the strongest voices will likely be in opposition to legalizing recreational cannabis and licensing of adult-use dispensaries. Many people don’t want to see D.C. riddled with the bright lights of cannabis dispensaries.

President Joe Biden Cannabis
“Vice President Joe Biden visit to Israel March 2016” by U.S. Embassy Jerusalem is licensed under CC BY 2.0

President Biden Doesn’t Fundamental Agree with Adult Use

No, we’re not going to get all political about it. But the truth is that as a retired military man, President Joe Biden’s stance on cannabis is hardly surprising. He spent most of his life in military service, where cannabis is banned. Where servicemembers submit to random drug testing, and the practice isn’t supported.

Times are changing, though. In 2020, Veterans Affairs made a statement about the use of cannabis by retired military personnel. The V.A. noted that no veteran would be cut off from health or other benefits for using cannabis for health purposes as long as the veteran resided in a state that had legalized medical government.

Specifically, Veterans Affairs stated that they aren’t responsible for setting federal or state drug policy. And the VA also acknowledged that cannabis can be a therapeutic option for the treatment of certain health conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression. If you are a veteran and have a valid medical card, your benefits are not threatened by the legal use of medical marijuana in your state.

The President supports mass expungement and the decriminalization of cannabis. That means possession would not result in a criminal charge, just a fine or a ticket. And people who have been previously charged would have an opportunity to delete that criminal record. Providing they were first-time offenders, possessing personal-use (small) amounts, and not involved in a violent crime.

Legalization may go ahead anyhow in the District of Columbia, however. And it will be interesting to see how the proposed legal changes play out on both sides of the political spectrum because legalization is a solution to the problem of recreational cannabis being ‘gifted’ but basically sold without a license.

And the legal loophole in D.C., the capital of democracy and order in America, looks really bad. There are two choices; eliminate the legal loophole by making gifting illegal. Or license adult-use dispensaries to regulate cannabis sales to people twenty-one (21) years and older. Impose important safety controls and, of course, tax it. 


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