Washington DC Marijuana Laws

  1. Washington D.C.
  2. Washington DC Marijuana Laws

Key Points

  • Marijuana for medical and recreational use is legal in Washington DC.

  • Adults aged 21 and above can use recreational and medical marijuana. Minors eligible to use medical cannabis can only purchase legal amounts with the help of their caregivers.

  • Residents of DC can possess up to two ounces of cannabis for recreational or medicinal use.

  • Growing up to six cannabis plants is legal in the District of Columbia.

  • Penalties for violating Washington DC marijuana laws typically include jail sentences, payment of fines, driver’s license suspension, and sometimes, asset confiscation.

Is Marijuana Legal in Washington D.C.?

As provided by Title 7 Chapter 16B of D.C Code and Initiative 71 of the 2014 citizen's bill, marijuana is legal for both medical and recreational use in D.C. Adults 21 years and older can:

  • Possess up to 2 ounces of cannabis

  • Share up to 1 ounce of cannabis with another adult (up to 21 years)

  • Cultivate up to six cannabis plants (only three can be mature flowering plants). If more than one eligible adult lives in a household, they can cultivate up to 12 marijuana plants, with a maximum of six mature and flowering plants.

Medical cannabis patients and their caregivers can possess up to 2 ounces of dried cannabis. However, a mayor can increase the maximum amount a patient or their caregiver can possess to 4 ounces of dried cannabis.

Like other psychoactive drugs, cannabis is classified as a Schedule I Controlled Substance. Consequently, it is prohibited under the Controlled Substance Act of 1970, and D.C. residents cannot use the drug on federal government-owned properties. These federal restrictions limit the financial transactions of marijuana businesses to local sources. Also, marijuana businesses cannot benefit from federal income tax returns or generate capital through investors, hence a setback to business expansion.

D.C. Marijuana Laws in 2022

The majority (69%) of the District's voters approved Initiative 59 of the 1998 ballot, hence legalizing marijuana for some severe medical conditions. Patients eventually started buying medical marijuana from dispensaries in 2013. In 2014, D.C.'s voters approved Initiative 71 - Legalization of Possession of Minimal Amounts of Marijuana for Personal Use Act. This bill passed with 64.87% votes. Consequently, recreational cannabis use in D.C. commenced in 2015.

The marijuana industry in the District has various chains such as cultivation, transportation, sale, and testing. The laws and bills regulating the sale and use of cannabis and their amendments over the years include:

Marijuana Possession Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2014

This Act, initially called the Simple Possession of Small Quantities of Marijuana Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2013, was enacted on July 17, 2014. The law was enacted to address racial bias in marijuana possession arrests and promote civil rights in the District. It stipulates that the possession or sharing (without remuneration) of more than 2 ounces of marijuana is a civil offense. This offense is punishable by a $25 fine and confiscation of any cannabis or paraphernalia found on the offender. Minors (persons below 18 years) found in possession of up to 1 ounce of cannabis would also pay a $25 fine and forfeit all marijuana in their possession. Before the enactment of this Act, persons caught with 1 ounce of cannabis or less could face up to 30 days imprisonment, with or without a fine. The Act eliminated the criminal penalties for possession of up to 1 ounce of cannabis or paraphernalia.

Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act of 2019

This prohibits federal bank regulators from penalizing banks that provide services to legitimate cannabis businesses. Although marijuana is legal in D.C., the federal ban restricts banks and other financial institutions from dealing with cannabis businesses. This bill, enacted on September 25, 2019, restricts bank regulators from:

  • Terminating the deposit insurance of a financial institution for serving a legitimate cannabis enterprise

  • Encouraging banks (through incentives) that refuse to provide financial services to business owners or account holders that legally profit from the cannabis industry

  • Penalizing banks that offer loans or other services to cannabis business owners

Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act of 2021

This Act intends to limit federal banking regulators from penalizing banks for serving marijuana-profiting businesses. It will allow financial institutions to offer loans and other banking services to marijuana businesses without facing disciplinary action or asset forfeiture. Per this bill, profit from legitimate cannabis businesses will not be regarded as proceeds from illegal activities. Consequently, such proceeds would not be subject to anti-money laundry regulations. Also, federal banking regulatory agencies would be restricted from ordering banks to terminate marijuana-profiting customers' accounts solely because of their business.

Safe Cannabis Sales Act of 2019

Mayor Muriel Browser proposed this bill in 2019. This bill would clarify the existing cannabis laws to reduce patronage of illegal cannabis (containing harmful chemicals) and promote health and safety in neighborhoods. The bill would also provide jobs, housing, and other social benefits to communities that were disadvantaged by marijuana criminalization. The provisions of the Safe Cannabis Sales Act include:

  • The daily purchase limits for adults (21 years and above) would be:

    • 5 grams of marijuana concentrate

    • 1 ounce of cannabis flower

    • 16 ounces of edibles infused with cannabis

    • 72 ounces of liquid cannabinoid products

  • Allowing eligible persons to buy marijuana online and have them delivered to their residential addresses

  • Increasing cannabis sales tax to 17%

  • Prohibiting the use of marijuana in public spaces such as schools, sidewalks, parks, and roadways.

  • Prohibiting the smoking of marijuana at workplaces

In addition, the Safe Cannabis Sales Act would introduce a seed-to-sale system for tracking cannabis. It would also make it compulsory for D.C. residents to own 60% of all new marijuana businesses and 60% of cannabis business employees to be residents of the District. Also, cannabis cultivation, distribution, manufacturing, retailing, and testing facility licenses would be valid for three years. The licenses will then be renewed or limited based on demand. If enacted, the Act would allow only medical marijuana licensees to apply for off-premise retailing and cultivation licenses within the first six months. The Act would rename the Alcohol and Beverage Regulation Administration as the Alcohol Beverage and Cannabis Administration.

Comprehensive Cannabis Legalization and Regulation Act of 2021

The Chairman of the D.C. Council, Phil Mendelson introduced this Act on March 1, 2021. The Act seeks to limit the diversion of legal marijuana into the illegal market by introducing a seed-to-sale tracking system. It would introduce a social equity program to create entrepreneurship opportunities for persons most affected by the criminalization of cannabis. Also, 50% of sales tax generated from marijuana in D.C. would be reinvested into the communities that were negatively affected by marijuana criminalization. The fund would give grants to organizations that address homelessness, poverty, unemployment, and gun violence in D.C. communities.

In addition, the Cannabis Legalization and Regulation Act would automatically expunge all marijuana-related convictions and arrests per the D.C. Code. This would give incarcerated persons an opportunity to modify their sentences.

The Marijuana Employment Protections Amendment Act of 2022

This new law offers cannabis users broad employment protections in the District of Columbia. Under this law, employers are not allowed to treat marijuana users unfavorably, even if they test positive for the substance. Furthermore, employers will not be allowed to reject a job applicant, fire, suspend, refuse to promote, or demote an employee, or take any other adverse action against a person because they use marijuana, qualify for medical marijuana, or test positive for marijuana when not intoxicated. The new law will take effect on July 13, 2023.

Medical Marijuana Self-Certification Emergency Amendment Act of 2022

Signed on July 6, 2022, this Act allows residents above 21 years to self-certify their eligibility for medical cannabis without approval or recommendation from a licensed healthcare practitioner. The purpose of this Act is to allow adults (above 21 and legal residents of DC) have temporary access to medical marijuana since there is no recreational cannabis market at the moment. A resident can qualify for self-certification by submitting an application online, in person or by mail to:

Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration

2000 14th Street NW

Suite 102A (First Floor)

Washington, DC 20009

While applying for self-certification, residents must state that they would exclusively consume cannabis purchased from one of the city's seven approved shops for medicinal purposes. This qualifies them under the self-certification regulation.

Timeline of Cannabis Law in Washington DC

  • 1937: The beginning of marijuana ban and criminalization across the US.

  • 1998: Almost 70% of DC voters supported the ballot measure titled “Legalization of Marijuana for Medical Treatment Initiative of 1998.” However, the Barr Amendment stopped the implementation of the new law.

  • 2010: A decade after approving the voter initiative to legalize medical marijuana, DC legislators eventually passed the bill which allowed eligible patients to use marijuana.

  • 2013-14: District of Columbia lawmakers passed a marijuana decriminalization legislation that reduced possession below one ounce to a $25 civil fine instead of a jail sentence.

  • 2014-15: More than 64% of voters said yes to the voter initiative titled “Legalization of Possession of Minimal Amounts of Marijuana for Personal Use Act of 2014.” The new law, which permitted adult-use marijuana for persons aged 21 and above, became effective in February 2015.

Federal Legalization of Weed in 2022

The US has already made a law in 2018 to allow use and cultivation of CBD oil, hemp, and other low-THC products. However, marijuana remains illegal. With marijuana now legal in several states, US legislators are also making efforts to end marijuana decriminalization. In 2019, the US House of Representatives presented the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act in a bid to legalize recreational and medical marijuana. The 2019 MORE Act was passed by the House in 2020 but failed to gain approval from the Senate. Another MORE Act was introduced in 2021 and has now been passed in 2022. If the Act is approved and signed into law by the US president, it would:

  • Remove cannabis from the illicit drugs list in the 1970 Controlled Substances Act.

  • Eliminate cannabis-related federal offense penalties.

  • Expunge previous marijuana convictions.

  • Permit other states to develop their own regulatory frameworks free from federal interference.

  • Prevent non-citizens from suffering immigration consequences as a result of using and possessing marijuana.

  • Stop federal organizations from refusing qualified applicants access to school loans, government benefits, or jobs because they consume marijuana.

  • Support community social services that have been impacted by the protracted war on drugs through a federal excise tax of 5% on marijuana sales.

Meanwhile, the US Senate is also working on its own marijuana legislation bill known as the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA). Like the MORE Act, this bill will delist cannabis from the DEA’s Schedule 1 drugs and allow states to legalize marijuana without federal interference. The CAO Act will also resolve a number of issues that are currently plaguing legislated state cannabis markets. Examples of those issues include:

  • Lack of financial services accessibility.

  • Federal tax returns on marijuana establishments.

  • Absence of uniform federal administrative regulations and standards.

If enacted into law, the bill will promote inclusion and diversity among licensed business owners in supervised cannabis markets and designates cash to be reinvested in regions that have been unduly disadvantaged by the War on Drugs.

The US President has also helped increase the prospect of federal legalization by issuing a marijuana reform executive order in October 2022. The executive action will pardon persons convicted of simple marijuana possession and other states to carry out similar state pardons. President Biden also asked the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Attorney General to review how cannabis is scheduled under the Controlled Substances Act.

Can I Use Cannabis in Washington D.C.?

In the District of Columbia, adults 21 years and over can use cannabis in a way stipulated by the District laws. Despite being legal in the District, marijuana laws in D.C. are tricky because it is the capital city of the United States. D.C. has its marijuana laws different from those regulating cannabis on the federal level. For instance, universities and colleges in D.C. can establish and enforce policies regarding the use and possession of marijuana on their premises, irrespective of the users being 21 years or over.

Marijuana is a plant with both recreational and medical uses. People call it several names such as cannabis, weed, dope, and pot. The plant contains chemicals that can affect the human body in various ways. It has active compounds such as cannabidiol (CBD), a mind-altering ingredient. Its psychoactive components like tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) make weed users high. People who use cannabis do so in different ways. They smoke it, mix it in food or brew it as tea. Some even take it as supplements or capsules.

Marijuana legalization in D.C. and some states in the U.S. has been a long haul as cannabis use faced various criticisms at different points in history. Cannabis was only a little-used drug in the United States at the beginning of the 20th century. However, the Mexican revolution in 1910 changed the narratives. Mexicans were heavy marijuana smokers who brought this culture to the U.S. as they began to immigrate to the country. There was growing trepidation of Mexican immigrants, and people began to spread terrifying allegations about marijuana. As if these allegations were not enough, Harry J. Anslinger of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN)), in 1930, went all out with a campaign against the drug. He cited the potential of causing insanity and violence induction as his primary reasons for the intense campaign. Using his office as commissioner of the FBN, Anslinger sought a federal ban on marijuana. In 1937, he achieved this and supervised the enactment of the Marihuana Tax Act, which made cannabis illegal in the U.S.

Persons under 21 years cannot use marijuana recreationally in the District of Columbia. While marijuana is legal in D.C., it is still illegal under federal law. Hence, residents should be careful with marijuana possession as federal law enforcement officers can arrest anyone in the District for carrying any amount of drug, even if they are 21 years or older. However, D.C. Police will not do so, provided possession and use of marijuana complies with the provisions of the District marijuana laws.

How The Legal Sale Of Cannabis in Washington D.C. Happens

The District of Columbia restricts the legitimate sale of marijuana to licensed dispensaries. Although the use and possession of small amounts of recreational marijuana are legal in D.C., it is illegal to sell it in the District. To buy cannabis legally, an individual must be a qualified patient or a caregiver. Medical marijuana patients 18 years and older can purchase cannabis from licensed dispensaries but must show their medical marijuana cards. Patients under 18 years can their caregivers make purchases for them. Worthy of note is that caregivers are only permitted to buy cannabis for patients. They are not allowed to grow the plant.

Generally, dispensaries prefer cash payments. Depository banks limit the services they offer cannabis businesses due to the federal ban on the drug. Marijuana dispensaries in D.C. often sell cannabis in various forms such as concentrates, flowers, edibles, and applications. However, they are not allowed to sell cannabis to recreational users or in the form of alcohol or tobacco.

The Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) is the agency responsible for regulating and licensing cannabis businesses in D.C. The dispensary license allows marijuana businesses to sell medical cannabis and paraphernalia to qualified patients in formulations for ingestion, inhalation, or other forms that are considered safe for human use.

The ABRA charges an $8,000 fee for new dispensary licenses, valid for one year, and $16,000 for annual license renewal. It charges patients and their caregivers $100 for new medical marijuana cards, valid for one year, and $100 for renewal. However, some applicants can qualify for a reduced fee of $25 for both initial registrations and renewal if they are Medicaid beneficiaries and can provide proof of financial needs.

Penalties for Marijuana-related crimes in Washington DC

Although marijuana is legal for adults up to 21 years in D.C., the district has strict regulations on marijuana sale and use. The following are some marijuana-related offenses and their penalties:

What are Cannabis Possession Charges in DC?

As provided in Title 48 Chapter 12 of the D.C. Code, adults (21 years and older) can possess up to 2 ounces of cannabis. However, possessing more than the permitted amount of marijuana is a civil offense punishable by a $25 fine. Law enforcement officers are authorized to seize any cannabis and paraphernalia they find on any offender. If the offender is a minor (under 18 years), the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) will send a copy of the violation notice to their parent or guardian via mail.

Offenders of Washington DC marijuana possession laws must provide their names and addresses at the request of law enforcement. Persons who refuse to provide this information or purposely give incorrect information to a law enforcement officer risk a $100 fine if convicted. Furthermore, the District prohibits the possession of cannabis in drug-free zones such as areas within 1,000 feet of daycare centers, elementary schools, playgrounds, or public housing facilities. Violation of the drug-free zone restriction attracts the following penalties:

  • A twenty-year maximum jail term, $50,000 fine, or both for first-time offenders

  • A forty-year maximum jail term, $100,000 fine, or both for subsequent offenders

Possession with Intent to Distribute

According to Washington DC marijuana distribution laws, it is illegal to sell marijuana in the District without a license. Unauthorized persons caught selling cannabis in the District can face the following penalties:

  • Imprisonment for a maximum of five years, a $50,000 maximum fine, or both

  • First-time offenders risk a maximum of 180 days in jail, $1,000 maximum fine, or both

Persons over 21 years caught enlisting minors (below 18 years) to sell marijuana will be charged for selling cannabis and risk the same penalties as though they sold the drug directly. Offenders risk the following additional penalties depending on prior convictions:

In the District of Columbia, consuming marijuana (i.e., vaping or smoking) is legal as long as it is carried out in private residences. Adults aged 21 and above can also smoke weed in nightclubs, bars, and workplaces where the owner permits marijuana use. Marijuana consumption on the premises owned by federal authorities is illegal and offenders may face federal charges. Other prohibited places where persons should not consume cannabis include schools, parks, inside cars, and playgrounds.

Hash and Concentrates

Per Title 48, Chapter 9 of the D.C. Code, the term ''hashish'' refers to the extracts from marijuana plants and any of its derivatives. Generally, the amounts of THC in concentrates and hash are higher than in other cannabis preparations. Persons caught manufacturing, sharing, selling, or possessing any amount of hash commit an offense as stipulated by D.C. Code's provisions. Offenders risk a maximum jail time of thirty years, a fine of up to $30,000, or both.

Also, penalties apply when an adult is caught distributing hash to minors (below 18 years). Offenders risk a maximum fine of $12,500, a jail time of up to ten years, or both. Selling or sharing hash within drug-free zones in the District attracts a maximum of twenty years imprisonment, $50,000 fine, or both, for first-time offenders. If an individual repeats this offense, they can be charged with up to forty years imprisonment, a $100,000 fine, or both.

Is Gifting Marijuana a Crime in D.C.?

No. The District of Columbia allows adults to share up to 1 ounce of cannabis. However, they can only share with other adults of legal age. Persons caught gifting up to 2 ounces of cannabis can serve 180 days maximum imprisonment, pay up to $2,500, or both. Gifting cannabis to minors attracts more severe penalties. Offenders risk incarceration for a maximum of five years, a $25,000 maximum fine, or both.

Can I Cultivate Marijuana for Non-medical Use in my Home?

Yes. Washington DC marijuana limitations for cultivating in private residences is six marijuana plants, provided only a maximum of three are mature and at the flowering stage. However, for a home to qualify, it must not be within 1,000 feet of a school, playground, or daycare center. In addition, it is illegal to cultivate cannabis within 1,000 feet of public housing, youth centers, or libraries. Recreational cannabis users are restricted from cultivating the plant in areas that are open to public view or easily accessible to persons under 21 years.

Is Transportation of Marijuana Legal in DC?

Yes. Adults 21 years and older can transport marijuana within the District. However, the amount of cannabis an individual is permitted to transport per time cannot exceed 1 ounce. Transporting more than the permitted amount attracts a fine of $25 and confiscation of any marijuana or paraphernalia found on the offender at the time. Because of the federal restriction on cannabis, it is illegal to transport cannabis out of D.C. or into federally-owned properties within the District.

What is the Legal Implication of Driving Under the Influence of Marijuana in DC?

It is illegal to drive under the influence of marijuana in the District of Columbia. Persons convicted of Driving Under the Influence (DUI) of marijuana risk a $1,000 fine, 180 days maximum jail time, or both, for first-time offenders. Repeat offenders risk a compulsory ten-day minimum jail term. Repeat offenders face an additional one-year maximum jail term, a fine ranging between $2,500 and $5,000, or both. Typically, law enforcement can prove that drivers are intoxicated by their traffic rules violations and their incoherent statements.

Confiscation of Assets

The Civil Asset Forfeiture Amendment Act of 2014 allows law enforcement agencies to confiscate assets involved in violation of Washington DC marijuana trafficking laws. Forfeitable assets include land, cash, vehicle, and personal property. After confiscating an asset, the defendant who owns the property will receive a receipt identifying the asset seized. Fortunately, defendants can contest the forfeiture in court and demand release of the asset.

Possible Remedies for Violators of Washington DC Marijuana Laws

Defending marijuana possession charges in DC is possible with the help of drug defense lawyers. Such lawyers can negotiate a plea deal with the prosecutor or prove that the defendant is not guilty of the charges. Common defenses for marijuana charges include illegal search, entrapment, and incorrect weight of marijuana due to lab equipment issues.

The District has other possible remedies for defendants of violating Washington DC marijuana laws. For instance, first-time offenders may be eligible for the ‘probation before judgment’ program according to DC Code 48-904.01(e). Eligible offenders given this opportunity must complete the 12-month program and attend drug testing regularly. Those who can complete the probation program successfully will have their marijuana charges dropped and the records expunged. An alternative to the probation program is the DC Deferred Prosecution Agreement, which is open to mostly individuals with marijuana DUI charges or simple marijuana possession charges. Like other pre-trial diversion programs, the offender must meet the requirements laid down by the court to have their cases dismissed.

What is D.C's Cannabis History?

Marijuana became legal for medical and recreational use in D.C. following the approval of Initiative 59 and Initiative 71 of the D.C. ballot initiative. The journey to cannabis legalization in D.C. dates back to the 20th century. In 1906, ''An Act to Regulate the Practice of Pharmacy and the Sale of Poisons in the District of Columbia, and for other purposes'' was introduced by the D.C. Congress. According to the provisions of this Act, only licensed pharmacists could dispense marijuana, and its use was solely based on prescription by qualified medical personnel.

In November 1998, D.C. voters approved Initiative 59 - Legalization of Marijuana for Medical Treatment Initiative. The initiative passed with a 69% vote that year. However, Bob Barr, a Georgia Congressman, proposed the total prohibition of medical cannabis federally. The Barr Amendment restricted the District from funding the program. Consequently, the implementation of Initiative 59 was delayed until 2009, when the Barr Amendment was overturned. The Council of D.C. enacted a bill to legalize medical marijuana in May 2010. Because Congress did not overturn this bill, medical cannabis became legal on January 1, 2011. In 2013, marijuana patients could legally purchase their drugs from cannabis dispensaries.

The D.C. Council decriminalized the possession of marijuana on March 4, 2014. The law was enacted in July 2014 after a compulsory thirty-day review period by Congress. However, Andy Harris, the Maryland representative, led the House Republicans to block funding of the cannabis decriminalization law. The Harris amendment hindered the District government from investing its funds in reducing the punishment for Schedule I drug offenses. Harris considered the $25 fine per the decriminalization law as a bad policy.

D.C. voters approved Initiative 71, a ballot initiative, on November 4, 2014. The initiative won by a 64.87% majority approval, and it was fully enacted on February 26, 2015. This law permits D.C. adults over 21 years to possess up to 2 ounces of cannabis and cultivate up to three immature and three mature cannabis plants at home. The law also allows eligible adults to share up to 1 ounce of cannabis with another adult of legal age (21 years). It equally legalized the possession of marijuana paraphernalia. However, buying, selling, and using cannabis in public is still illegal in the District of Columbia.

What are Restrictions on Cannabis in D.C.?

Despite the legalization of recreational and medical marijuana in D.C., there are still limitations on its use. Restrictions apply to the quantity that can be possessed, grown, or shared at a time and those who can use it. Restrictions on Cannabis in the District of Columbia include:

  • Possession or use of recreational marijuana by persons under 21 years is illegal.

  • Operating cars, motorboats, or aircraft under the influence of marijuana is prohibited. Cannabis users are prohibited from undertaking tasks under the influence of the drug as it could constitute professional malpractice or negligence. This is true for both medical and recreational users. It is also unlawful to smoke or ingest marijuana in a vehicle.

  • Sharing marijuana with a minor (persons below 18 years) is illegal.

  • Gifting more than 1 ounce of cannabis to other people is illegal even if they are 21 years or older.

  • Possession of more than 2 ounces of cannabis at any time is prohibited.

  • The use, possession, or cultivation of cannabis within 1,000 feet of a daycare center, school, library, public housing facility, or playground is prohibited.

  • Selling recreational marijuana is prohibited even if a buyer is above 21 years.

  • Transporting cannabis into a federal property such as a building or land is unlawful. It is also illegal to move the drug across state lines in the country, even if marijuana is legal in the destination state.

  • Cultivating more than six cannabis plants at home is illegal. In addition, the cultivation area must be out of public view and inaccessible to minors (persons below 18 years).

  • Marijuana patients and caregivers are prohibited from using or administering the drug at a cultivation center, dispensary, or cannabis testing laboratory.

  • Marijuana patients and caregivers must not transport medical cannabis unless they are in sealed packages or labeled containers.

  • Medical patients and caregivers are restricted from growing marijuana for personal use.

Washington DC Marijuana Laws
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