As of 12:01 am on Thursday, February 26, 2015, the possession of small amounts of marijuana became legal in the District of Columbia for adults 21 years of age and older. Many people in the D.C. area celebrated this change in the law.
In November 2014, District voters approved the Legalization of Possession of Minimal Amounts of Marijuana for Personal Use Initiative, also known as Initiative 71.
Initiative 71 did not change existing law on marijuana possession for anyone under 21 years of age. A person under 21 with more than two ounces of marijuana can be arrested. If a metropolitan police officer stops a person under 21 with no more than two ounces of marijuana, it will be seized and the person will not be arrested or issued a citation.
Since the passage of the law, medical marijuana businesses have moved into the city and clubs and associations have taken off, but not without problems.
William Angolia Sr., Director of Business Affairs for the D.C. Cannabis Co-op Clubis and advocate for the cannabis industry. On April 19, 2016, the D.C. Council added wording to the legislation that private plant cannabis clubs are now illegal. This change has caused the co-op club some problems, specifically when it comes to their name.
“We’re a cannabis cooperative club and we don't meet the designation of what they're describing as a cannabis club. All this came about because the residents of D.C., 63 percent of them in fact, voted that they wanted to have the opportunity for people to congregate and to smoke together,” Angolia explained.
“And really what the city is saying to us is that because they don't have any way to regulate or tax us, they are refusing to allow communal clubs in D.C. on public property.”
The DC Cannabis Co-op Club is a private “members only” organization founded in 2015 by a small group of activists dedicated to cannabis advocacy.
Last February, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D), agreed to form a task force to study whether and how the District could proceed with sanctioning a limited number of private cannabis clubs.
Kaitlyn Boecker, a spokeswoman for the Drug Policy Alliance, told The Washington Post: “Moving a bill that permanently bans venues, before receiving any input from the task force, means the chairman places no value in their analysis or recommendations — I’m not sure this could be characterized in any other way than invalidating their work.”
In general, marijuana arrests decreased by 85 percent from 2014 to 2015. Marijuana possession arrests fell from 1,840 in 2014 to just 32 in 2015.
The council is currently considering a bill that would cover out-of-state patients.
“They’re going to be taking away the part in the legislation where you’ve got to be a D.C. resident in order to get a card...If they take away that requirement that means anyone from any state can come into D.C. and get a card,” says Angolia.
The hope is that this change will bring in more medical marijuana consumers to support the five dispensaries that currently reside in D.C.
“It's a solution to their problem because the prices are so high and the process is so intense and the taxation is so high, it makes the product not user friendly,” says Angolia. For example, on the black market an ounce can go for 150-200 dollars, in the industry with regulation and taxation that same product can go for 750 dollars.
“We want more openness of the product and less government involvement,” says Angolia. “The citizens of D.C. want more.”
D.C. Pot Regulations a Work in Progress