D.C. Council Approves Massive Medical Marijuana Program Expansion

The measure creates a quasi-recreational cannabis market.

The Washington, D.C. city council is apparently fed up with Congressional obstructionism when it comes to the city’s legal marijuana industry.

Councilors this week unanimously approved an enormous expansion of the medical marijuana program to ostensibly get quasi-legal “gifting” businesses into the licensed medical side of the trade. And it’s all a workaround to how Congress has prevented city leaders for the better part of a decade from standing up a fully recreational cannabis market.

According to DCist, the council gave the green light to the Medical Cannabis Amendment Act of 2021, which will in effect transform the capital’s medical cannabis industry into a quasi-recreational one, since customers will no longer need a doctor’s recommendation to make purchases, but will be allowed to “self-certify” as MMJ patients.

The new ordinance – which has yet to be signed into law by Mayor Muriel Bowser – would also create a pathway for the so-called “I-71” gray market cannabis businesses to join the city’s seven licensed medical marijuana dispensaries and eight cultivation facilities.

The ordinance eliminates city license caps on the number of retailers and growers, allows delivery operations for the first time, cuts tax burdens on licensed companies, allows for on-site consumption and innovative sales methods, and creates a social equity program.

The cumulative effect will be to multiply the capital’s cannabis industry by a still-unknown factor, since there are varying estimates as to how many of the so-called I-71 “gifting” retailers are actually operational in the city. Some have said there could be as many as 1,500 that have become entrenched in recent years.

I-71 Gray Market

The issue dates back to 2014, when D.C. voters first approved Initiative 71, a ballot measure that legalized recreational marijuana in the district.

Congressional leaders stepped in immediately with a “budget rider” that prevents the city council from authorizing recreational production and sales, since Congress has veto power over many municipal ordinances. The rider has been renewed every year since and was just included in a federal spending package.

I-71 included a major loophole for entrepreneurs to exploit, however. It legalized gifting of cannabis between adults, and so stores began popping up that sold overpriced t-shirts and the like that came with a gift of legal marijuana.

John Schroyer

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