You can’t buy weed in Washington, DC—but you can acquire it, and give it away.
Recreational marijuana has technically been legal in the US capital since 2014, when district residents voted in favor of its legalization. But the city’s unique status under the constitution allowed an anti-pot US Congress to intervene and pass a law later that year preventing the city from spending its own money to set up a retail tax-and-sale program.
If you want to acquire weed in the city, and you aren’t able to grow your own, your only (legal) option is an essentially unregulated gray market. “In this odd legal limbo, a gifting economy—in which people exchange weed for t-shirts or other items—has flourished,” DCist reports.
As one weed delivery service notes: “Everything is strictly Initiative 71 compliant, meaning ALL MARIJUANA COMES FOR FREE. The only thing we sell are stickers and vintage baseball cards.” You have to pay for the vintage baseball cards (or a drawstring backpack or cold-press juice), but there’s no charge for the dope. A single sticker might cost $80. Other providers use a giveaway system, where customers “donate” a certain amount of money and then select free “prizes,” such as “Yummy Gummy Incredible Edibles” or “Jaeger Pine 5-Star Flowers.”
City authorities don’t love this baroque marketplace. They can’t collect tax dollars from marijuana sales, regulate what’s being sold, or keep an eye on vendors. It’s a public safety hazard, DC mayor Muriel Bowser said last week, as she announced a new plan to make it possible for recreational marijuana dispensaries to open and operate in the district. The Safe Cannabis Sales Act of 2019 would impose a 17% sales tax on marijuana products and place restrictions on which businesses, in which neighborhoods, could legally sell the drug.
“We want to be able to regulate, we want to be able to make sure we are collecting our fair share in taxes, we want to invest those taxes in ways that affect communities that have been disproportionately affected, and we want to train and hire DC residents,” Bowser told the Washington Post.
If the bill does not pass, Bowser will have to wait for a new spending plan without the anti-marijuana language to be passed by Congress. Advocates are hopeful that House Democrats will look more kindly on the city’s desire for legal cannabis dispensaries than the Republican majority responsible for the original budget restriction. It is not certain, however, that a new plan will have enough time to be drafted and approved ahead of the 2020 elections.