Marijuana is legal in Washington D.C. for medical and recreational purposes. However, medical marijuana can only be purchased by registered medical patients. It is illegal to buy or sell marijuana in any form in the District. Patients who qualify for the medical marijuana program must have a recommendation from a qualified physician. A medical recommendation is given to a patient with a qualifying medical condition or suffering the detrimental effects of a qualifying medical treatment.
The Legalization of Marijuana for Medical Treatment Amendment Act of 2010 allows residents, including minors, to purchase, possess, and use cannabis to treat a qualifying medical condition or an associated side effect. Patients and caregivers enrolled in the medical marijuana program may buy up to 4 ounces of marijuana in any 30-day period and possess up to 2 ounces at any time. The Act permits the possession of marijuana in forms like flowers, concentrates, edibles, transdermal products, seeds, and seedlings. To acquire medical marijuana in D.C., patients or caregivers must obtain a medical cannabis card. The District practices medical marijuana reciprocity and allows non-residents enrolled in another state's medical marijuana program to buy medical marijuana from any DC-licensed dispensary. However, it restricts the consumption of medical cannabis to a patient's home or private property. The Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) took over the administration of the medical cannabis program from the Department of Health on October 1, 2020.
In July 2014, the District of Columbia decriminalized the possession of marijuana through the Simple Possession of Small Quantities of Marijuana Decriminalization Amendment Act. Under this Act, the possession of 1 ounce of marijuana is a civil violation, punishable by a $25 fine. In November 2014, voters in the District of Columbia approved the Legalization of Possession of Minimal Amounts of Marijuana for Personal Use Act of 2014 (Initiative 71). Initiative 71 legalized the possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana, without medical recommendation, by adults over 21 years. It took effect on February 26, 2015, legally allowing adults 21 years and older to:
Possess, purchase, and transport not more than 2 ounces of marijuana for personal use.
Cultivate not more than six marijuana plants in their homes, with no more than three mature plants. Adults are allowed to keep all of the cannabis produced by those plants in the same place. A single residence or rental unit may only have a total of 12 plants, six of which must be mature.
Transfer up to 1 ounce of marijuana to other adults who are 21 years or older. All transfers must be free because sales are prohibited.
Use or sell paraphernalia for marijuana use, growth, or processing.
Conducts permitted by Initiative 71 cannot be used as grounds to deny individuals access to programs, services, or benefits. Effective July 13, 2013, the Marijuana Employment Protections Amendment Act of 2022 will disallow employers to be biased in promotions, penalize employees, or fire an employee because of marijuana usage. Some exceptions to the law permit employers to not allow marijuana usage. Also, property owners can prohibit or regulate cannabis-related activities on their properties. Using marijuana for medical or recreational purposes in public is a criminal offense.
Initiative 71 did not legalize retail sales of cannabis. However, the Council of the District of Columbia is presently examining two bills to regulate and impose a tax on retail sales of marijuana.
In D.C., possession of more than 2 ounces of marijuana is a misdemeanor punishable by six months imprisonment and up to a $1,000 fine. Public consumption is a misdemeanor offense with a penalty of up to 60 days in jail and a maximum fine of $500. A first offense for cultivating more than the allowed number of marijuana plants is punishable by six months imprisonment and a $1,000 fine. A subsequent offense attracts up to $5,000 and two years imprisonment.
Marijuana is classified as a schedule 1 drug. Despite the District's stance on the drug, marijuana remains illegal on the federal level. This means that a person can be arrested for possessing marijuana on federal land, which accounts for 24.7% of the District's total area.
The public hearing report by the Office of the Chief Financial Officer estimated the potential market size of marijuana, including medical marijuana, as $130 million annually. The estimate was based on the number of users, average usage per user, and the price of marijuana. The estimate could lead to a possible $20 million of revenue for the local government.
However, the report could not estimate the expected cost of implementing Initiative 71 and the potential annual tax revenue. The report considered the expected cost to include establishing and maintaining a regulatory system and the cost of enforcement.
There was no estimate of the potential annual tax revenue for three reasons:
The marijuana excise tax was not specified by Initiative 71. However, it stipulated sales tax to be 15%, but both sales tax and excise tax are important. Sales are determined by demand, and tax rates play a key role in stimulating demand.
It was difficult to predict how many of the buyers would switch to the recreational market. Increased tax rates or high pricing due to regulatory costs may keep some buyers in the illegal market.
It was hard to predict the timing of revenue collection. It depends on how long it takes to create and adopt new regulations, license retailers, set up a tracking and testing system, and police enforcement regulations.
A bill was created that would enforce and fine more severely anyone taking advantage of the law which allows transferring up to an ounce of marijuana known as ‘gift giving,’ but it did not pass.
In 2020, the District of Columbia's Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) published the Marijuana Arrest Data 2012-2019. According to the report, the MPD arrested 12,220 within the period under review. There was an overall decline in marijuana arrests from 2012 to 2019, particularly in 2015, because of the enactment of decriminalization and legalization laws. The police department made 3,545 marijuana arrests in 2012 and 837 in 2019, a 76% decline over eight years. As of May 2021 there has been a 57% decrease in marijuana arrests. The data shows 366 arrests, including:
32 adults 5 juveniles arrested for public consumption
249 adults 15 juveniles arrested for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute.
11 adults 10 juveniles arrested for possession for use,
One person was arrested for cultivation.
Medical marijuana has been legal in the District of Columbia since November 1998. The 1998 Legalization of Marijuana for Medical Treatment Initiative (Initiative 59) was passed with 69% voters' support. It provided that patients could use medical marijuana to treat a wide variety of debilitating medical conditions. However, Congress prevented the implementation of the Initiative. Shortly after the Initiative 59 vote, Georgia Congressman Bob Barr quickly proposed an amendment and it passed. The amendment made it illegal to conduct a Ballot Initiative that intends to legalize or otherwise reduce penalties related to the possession, use, or distribution of any Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act or any tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) derivative. This prohibited the District from using its funds to implement the medical marijuana program, open dispensaries, and delayed medical marijuana legalization. The amendment was reversed in 2009.
In 2010, the Legalization of Marijuana for Medical Treatment Amendment Act was signed into law. It addressed the provisions of the 1998 Initiative, including adopting regulations for dispensaries. Marijuana possession restrictions were set at 2 ounces for medical patients. The first dispensary in the District was opened in 2013. The Medical Marijuana Expansion Emergency Amendment Act of 2014 describes a qualifying medical condition to include any illness that a doctor thinks might benefit from marijuana use.
In July 2014, the Council of the District of Columbia enacted the Simple Possession of Small Quantities of Marijuana Decriminalization Amendment Act. This Act decriminalized the possession of marijuana in the District. Before the enactment of the law, possession of 1 ounce of marijuana was a crime punishable by one-year imprisonment. Now, it is a civil violation that has a $25 fine as punishment. Also, in 2014, recreational marijuana was legalized through the Legalization of Possession of Minimal Amounts of Marijuana for Personal Use Act 2014 (Initiative 71). The Initiative allows the possession and cultivation of recreational marijuana by adults 21 years and older. However, it prohibits the sale of marijuana in the District but permits adults to grow up to six plants, three of which must be flowering. In 2017, the Medical Marijuana Reciprocity Amendment Act of 2015 took effect. It allows patients from other jurisdictions with medical marijuana programs similar to the District of Columbia to use their cards at D.C. dispensaries. Effective July 13, 2023, The Marijuana Employment Protections Amendment Act of 2022 D,C. law will not allow employers to be biased in promotions, penalize employees, or fire an employee because of marijuana usage.