The capital city of the United States is about to become a recreational marijuana market, at least in spirit even if not by the letter of the law.
Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser on Monday signed into law the Medical Cannabis Amendment Act of 2021, which for all practical purposes will establish a new adult-use cannabis market, but without any license caps or restrictions on specific medical ailments.
Rather, the bill provides a path to licensure and legal status for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of gray market “gifting” businesses that have been trafficking in cannabis for years. It also removes caps on the number of legal medical marijuana companies in the city, allows for medical patients to “self-certify” that they need cannabis to treat any given medical issue, and sets up a new social equity program.
Though the bill and its substance remain medical in name, in reality it’s a workaround by the D.C. City Council to avoid being overridden by Congress, which retains veto power over the city’s municipal ordinances. It’s Congress – and a perpetually renewed federal budget rider – that have kept the city from standing up a recreational marijuana market since residents voted to legalize in 2014. In this latest move, it appears that city leaders have finally figured out how to circumvent Congressional prohibitionists.
The 2014 ballot measure, Initiative 71, legalized recreational marijuana in the district, but the Congressional budget rider kept the city council from authorizing a full adult-use industry. A loophole in the measure, however, allowed locals to “gift” cannabis to each other. As a result, a new gray market was born, in which entrepreneurs sold extra-expensive ordinary goods such as lighters or T-shirts, along with a “gift” of cannabis.
The number of such companies has swollen over the years, and some have pegged the number of operating cannabis retailers in the city as high as 1,500. That stands in stark contrast to the city’s seven licensed medical marijuana dispensaries and eight permitted cultivators, and means the local industry is primed to grow by leaps and bounds.