D.C. officials are delaying plans to examine the city’s marijuana-related gift stores this week, causing more confusion surrounding the legally-legal possibly-unlawful industry which continues to expand throughout the city. In an attempt to stop the dc weed storefronts and curb the vibrant market in its tracks, they were going to try to crack down on bad actors.
The inspections planned were made public a month ago and D.C. officials saying that the day after Labor Day they would be looking to determine if the weed shops — which advertise selling common items such as clothes and art and also offer “gifts” made from cannabis had the legitimate licenses for business, were collecting sales taxes and complying with the city’s health and fire codes, just as any other business within the city. The DC weed storefronts, delivery services and events were open to having their business documents examined, and many storefronts are tax paying businesses within the district. Businesses understood the need to weed out the bad actors, but felt the path and intent that ABRA was taking was more of a scare and fear tactic.
The inspections were viewed as a way to reign on a market in the market for cannabis that’s exploded significantly in recent years with a growing number of brick and mortar retail stores that can appear as legal recreational dispensaries to a typical customer, even though marijuana sales are still prohibited in the city, with the exception of a few cannabis dispensaries for medical use. Many of these storefronts do have the proper business licenses, certifications of occupancy, and other business forms.
Staying Compliant with Initiative 71
For their part, many vendors and their advocates counter that they are complying with D.C.’s business regulations; that what they are doing is in keeping with Initiative 71, the 2014 ballot measure that legalized the personal use, possession, home cultivation, and gifting of marijuana; and that they represent a diverse and homegrown industry-in-the-making until D.C. is allowed to legalize recreational sales. (Since in 2015 Congress is prevented the D.C. city of doing that.)
The announcement of last month’s scheduled inspections was made by the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA), which oversees the sale of medical marijuana throughout D.C. and would oversee recreational sales, if and when they become legal. The announcement mentioned that there would be a “Joint Cannabis Task Force” comprised of various city departments comprising DC Health, the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs and the Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department and the Office of Tax and Revenue — will oversee the inspections that are not announced.
ABRA has not responded to numerous requests for clarification regarding the reasons why the inspections were put on hold. Susana Castillo is a spokesperson on behalf of the mayor Muriel Bowser, could not provide any specific information regarding the reason the reasons for the inspections being delayed. “Eventually it will be done however, right now there’s a lot of work to be completed,” she said.
MPD Expresses Concerns
An individual who was aware of the matter confirmed that MPD officials had expressed concerns over the procedures for examining the stores and what happens should inspectors find weapons or other illegal items. In the past, MPD officers have obtained warrants for searching gift shops and have also confiscated illegal firearms and large quantities of marijuana. MPD did not reply to a request for information.
The Council Caught Off Guard
The city’s decision was taken D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson off guard when an article in the newspaper informed him of the decision on Tuesday night. This year, twice Mendelson attempted to adopt legislation to increase the civil enforcement of cannabis gifting shops and said that they would jeopardize the viability of the financially sound medical marijuana dispensaries and put the consumers in danger.
“The District must take the control of this marketplace,” the official said. in reference to the gift stores. “California allowed it to grow out of control and they’re now having a tough time trying to regulate this black market. Enforcement is bound to take place sooner or later.” Mendelson has since written a letter both to the House of Representatives and the Senate requesting the removal of the Harris Rider which has restricted the city from the ability to use tax dollars to regulate the cannabis market in Washington, D.C.
Mendelson has proposed legislation that will establish a legal system of selling recreational marijuana for D.C., but whether the council will be able to move advance with it depends the outcome of the extent to which Congress lifts its existing ban on the city’s loosening of its marijuana laws even more. The month ahead Congress is scheduled to discuss and debate a new spending bill from the federal government as well as Democrats have already stated that they’ll be fighting to prevent the ban of legalizing marijuana out of the bill. This same promise was made in January however, and the prohibition was still in effect.
The Washington, D.C. weed storefronts, delivery services, and events will continue as status quo for now.