Blurred Lines: Determining the Legality of Marijuana in the District

090115_Blurred Lines Determining the Legality of Marijuana in the District 

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It is rather common for people in Washington DC to enjoy marijuana in social events. Ever since the use of the substance has been legalized in the state last February, residents have been able to possess, consume, cultivate, and share marijuana for recreational purposes. The city even has a successful medical marijuana program regulated by the DC Department of Health.

But there is one catch: selling and buying weed still remains illegal.

“DC is kind of like the Alice of Wonderland of cannabis. The Queen of Hearts is the Congress,” commented Alex Jeffrey, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) DC chapter. “Recreation and regulation should go hand in hand. We are an exception to the rule.”

The Congress has blocked the nation’s capital from the creation of a tax and regulation system for pot sales, as the federal government still classifies weed as illegal. Thus, it is becoming harder for residents to determine what really constitutes a transaction, and what can be called legal or illegal. Many growers and dealers are hoping to exploit this loophole, making the marijuana black market more robust than ever.

But even if the Congress allows this to happen, it will still take the local government more than a year to approve and implement such a system, unless it undergoes emergency legislation. For instance, when medical marijuana was approved in 1998, the first sale of medical pot occurred in 2013, just because regulations were only created by 2009.

Still great for business

For Adam Eidinger, former chairman of the DC Cannabis Campaign, this does not pose much of a problem—for now. “On a personal level—this isn’t speaking so much about the movement but on a personal level—we’ve come so far. Like, it’s okay. We can handle where we’re at right now for a little while longer and be very content with it,” he said.

The rest of the residents are getting creative as well, in the way that they are profiting from marijuana without selling the thing itself. For instance, both Canna Party and MetroX DC delivers products being used to smoking marijuana, like bongs, lighters, and pipes. Hydro-City sells and rents equipment for growing marijuana, like tents, fans, bulbs, lamps, fertilizers, and filters. They also set up growing systems in the homes of DC residents.

Meanwhile, home growers have created small communities of people who smoke together at a private home. They create and attend events, and even participate in Facebook groups where they share photos and advice with one another.

Eidinger himself has reopened his shop Capitol Hemp, which sells accessories for smoking pot, like pipes, vaporizers, and rolling papers.

“It’s also sort of a sweet victory for us to be able to reopen the store without any fear,” he said. “You’ll be able to go into the store and talk about using marijuana if you’re over 21, and we can be completely open and have a totally open conversation about marijuana.”

Despite its restrictions, the legalization of recreational marijuana has also boosted the medical marijuana industry. People are more open about using medical marijuana now that the stigma has somewhat subsided. Last July 2014, only 738 patients were registered weed users. By July 2015, there were over 3,498.

“What’s happened is that we do see a lot of people, who we would call closet medicators, are more open to marijuana programs,” said Corey Barnette, the owner of District Growers, a medical marijuana cultivation center in Washington. “We can debate whether or not that was a direct result of Initiative 71, but I can tell there has been a spike in the level of interest and level of awareness of the medical marijuana program.”

Because of the increase in demand of medical pot, Barnette isn’t scared that homegrown plants will be competing with his product. After all, most people just don’t grow their own pot.

Barnette said, “Right now, all over DC, people are learning just how difficult it is—or just how much attention is necessary—to grow a plant to pharmaceutical grade. You can grow your own tomatoes. Most people don’t. You can grow your own carrots. Most people don’t. You can make your own beer. Most people don’t.”

How do you think the laws in Washington DC should change? Voice your opinions in the comments section below—your opinion matters to the nation.


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