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:
Conducts permitted by Initiative 71 cannot be used as grounds to deny individuals access to programs, services, or benefits. Employers do not need to allow the use or possession of marijuana in the workplace. The law does not prevent employers from enforcing their policies restricting marijuana use by employees. 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:
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. A significant drop occurred between 2014 and 2015. In 2014, there were a total of 2,152 marijuana arrests, while 322 were recorded in 2015. This was an 85% decline in marijuana arrests.
A 2013 report of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) which analyzed marijuana arrest rates between 2001 and 2010 in the U.S., revealed that D.C. had the fourth-highest percentage increase in marijuana possession arrests. Also, there was a high racial disparity in marijuana possession arrests. African-Americans were eight times more likely to be arrested than white residents for simple marijuana possession in the District. According to the report, 91% of marijuana possession arrests in the District of Columbia had black residents as offenders, the third-highest African-American arrest rate in the country. The report further noted that the District of Columbia spends the most per capita on marijuana enforcement.
The District of Columbia grants medical marijuana cards to qualified patients and caregivers participating in its medical marijuana program. This card gives them the right to legally possess, purchase, and use marijuana to treat their medical conditions. Patients and caregivers cannot purchase medical marijuana from any licensed dispensary in the District without the cards.
A person must meet the following criteria to be eligible for a medical marijuana card in the District of Columbia:
The application fee is $100, and an applicant must provide two proofs of District residency. D.C. residents who want to apply for a medical marijuana program can do so in one of the following ways:
Adult applicants must complete the Patient Application, while minor applicants' parents or legal guardians are to fill out the Minor Application Form. After completing the appropriate form, include all required documents and payments proof (checks, money orders, or cashier's checks) and forward the application to:
Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration
2000 14th Street Northwest 4th Floor
Washington, DC 20009
Interested persons can also apply online. Applicants must provide the following documents to complete a medical marijuana card application:
Before beginning an online application process, applicants should have all of the essential documents on hand. This is because no feature allows applicants to save their progress and return to finish the application later. Applicants who require caregivers' support must declare their needs and choose their preferred payment method. Payments can be made online or through mailed checks or money orders. Applicants who qualify for reduced fees must indicate and show the required documents as proof. Before completing the online application, applicants must add their signature by providing their full names and the date of application.
Typically, applicants receive an email confirming receipt of their application upon submission, and those who get initial approvals will receive a follow-up email within three business days. Usually, the ABRA will reject an application if:
Applicants whose applications are rejected can appeal at the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) within 30 days after receiving the notice of rejection. Parties dissatisfied with the OAH's ruling can appeal to the District of Columbia Court of Appeals.
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.