The Evolution of Cannabis Legislation in DC

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Key Points

  • Recreational and medical usage of marijuana has been legalized in Washington DC.
  • Those who have reached the age of twenty-one or beyond are granted the privilege of partaking in both recreational and therapeutic marijuana. Conversely, young individuals who require the benefits of this medicinal plant must rely on their guardians to obtain it.
  • Residents of DC are permitted to possess up to two ounces of cannabis while within its borders, whether their purpose is for medical treatment or personal enjoyment.
  • Within the jurisdiction of the District of Columbia, it is legally permissible to cultivate up to six cannabis plants.
  • However, violating the cannabis regulations in Washington DC frequently leads to consequences such as imprisonment, fines, loss of driving privileges, and on occasion, the confiscation of belongings.

Is Marijuana Legal In D.C.?

Operating under the authority of Title 7 Chapter 16B of the D.C. Code, in conjunction with the provisions of Initiative 71 from the 2014 citizen’s mandate, the District of Columbia legally permits both medicinal and recreational use of marijuana. Those who have attained the age of 21 are granted the freedom to:

  • Possess up to a maximum of 2 ounces of this herbal substance.
  • Transfer a maximum of 1 ounce of the green material to another individual who is 21 years of age or older.
  • Cultivate a set of six of these green plants, ensuring that only three of them reach the stage of maturity and blossoming. In households accommodating multiple eligible residents, a combined total of 12 cannabis seedlings is allowed, with the flowering mature plants capped at six.
  • Individuals who are navigating the realm of medical cannabis with valid prescriptions, along with their designated caregivers, are granted the right to possess up to 2 ounces of dried cannabis. The highest-ranking city official, however, maintains the authority to increase this cap, allowing for a maximum possession of 4 ounces of the dried herb.
  • Similar to other substances that affect the mind, marijuana is classified as a Schedule I Controlled Substance. This classification deems it illegal under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. Consequently, residents of D.C. are prohibited from consuming it on federal territories. This overarching federal ban also restricts the financial operations of cannabis businesses, confining them to local financial resources. Moreover, these enterprises are not eligible for federal tax incentives or investment capital, which hinders their potential for growth and expansion.

Marijuana Laws In D.C. 2022

In the realm of District politics, a notable 69% of its voting population endorsed Initiative 59 during the 1998 referendum. This paved the way for the legal use of marijuana in treating specific acute medical conditions. However, it wasn’t until 2013 that patients were able to acquire their medical cannabis from designated dispensaries. Moving ahead to 2014, the residents of D.C. expressed their support for Initiative 71, known as the Act for Legalizing Possession of Limited Cannabis Quantities for Personal Consumption. This legislative measure received a positive response from 64.87% of the voting public. As a direct consequence, 2015 marked the beginning of recreational cannabis consumption in D.C.

The cannabis industry in the District operates through a variety of channels, covering cultivation, transportation, trade, and quality assessment of this plant material. The established regulations and legislative measures governing the commercial and recreational aspects of marijuana, including their subsequent updates over time, encompass:

Amending The Decriminalization Of Cannabis Possession In Year 2014

Originally titled the “Ordinance for the Decriminalization of Small Amounts of Cannabis Possession” in 2013, this legislative measure received official approval on July 17, 2014. The main driving force behind this law was to address the racial disparities evident in arrests related to cannabis possession and, furthermore, to enhance civil liberties within the District. It stipulates that having or giving away (without any monetary exchange) more than 2 ounces of marijuana is considered a civil offense. Those found guilty are subject to a fine of $25 and the confiscation of any cannabis or related items. For individuals under 18 years of age, the consequences for possessing up to 1 ounce of marijuana are the same as for adults: a $25 fine and forfeiture of the substance. Prior to the enactment of this law, individuals caught with up to 1 ounce of cannabis could face up to a month of imprisonment along with potential fines. However, this legislation eliminated the criminal penalties associated with possessing up to 1 ounce of cannabis or its paraphernalia.

Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act of 2019

Although cannabis has attained legal status in D.C., broader federal regulations prevent banking institutions and related financial entities from conducting transactions with businesses focused on cannabis. The legislation, which was approved on September 25, 2019, limits the jurisdiction of federal banking regulators in several specific ways:

  • It prohibits them from revoking the deposit insurance of any financial institution based on its legitimate connections with a cannabis-related business.
  • It prevents these regulators from encouraging banking institutions, through financial incentives, to refuse providing financial services to owners or account holders who are legally profiting from the cannabis industry.
  • It prohibits punitive actions against banking entities that offer credit facilities or other services to owners operating within the cannabis trade.

Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act of 2021

This regulation seeks to limit the authority of federal banking authorities, preventing them from imposing punitive actions on banking institutions that offer their services to businesses generating profits from the marijuana industry. It opens the door for financial institutions to provide credit facilities and a range of banking services to cannabis-related businesses without the looming threat of penalties or asset seizure. Under the scope of this legislative measure, profits earned from legitimate cannabis enterprises are not considered gains from illegal activities. Consequently, such earnings are exempt from anti-money laundering regulations. Additionally, federal financial oversight bodies are restricted from compelling banking institutions to terminate relationships with accounts held by clients benefiting from the marijuana industry, solely based on the nature of their business ventures.

Safe Cannabis Sales Act of 2019

In 2019, Mayor Muriel Bowser introduced a legislative proposal with a clear aim: to clarify the existing cannabis laws, thereby reducing the appeal of illicit marijuana products that might contain harmful substances. This initiative also aimed to enhance public health and safety within local communities. An additional benefit of this bill was the potential for creating jobs, improving housing, and providing various societal advantages to communities that have historically been disproportionately affected by the criminalization of marijuana. Upon closer examination of the “Safe Cannabis Sales Act,” the following provisions come to light:

  • For individuals who are of legal adult age (21 years and older), the proposed legislation would establish daily limits for acquisition as follows:
      • 5 grams for marijuana distillates on a daily basis for adults over the age of 21.
      • 1 ounce for raw cannabis blooms
      • 16 ounces for edible treats laced with cannabis
      • 72 ounces for liquid concoctions abundant in cannabinoids
  • The Act would also:
    • Authorize eligible individuals to make digital purchases of marijuana, with the products being delivered to their residential addresses.
    • Increase the cannabis commercial tax rate to a fixed 17%.
    • Enforce a comprehensive prohibition on marijuana consumption in shared spaces such as educational institutions, pedestrian pathways, parks, and roads.
    • Prohibit the inhalation of marijuana within professional workplaces.

Furthermore, the Act would lead the way in establishing a comprehensive “seed-to-sale” system to closely monitor the entire cannabis supply chain. An essential provision would require that a minimum of 60% ownership in new cannabis businesses be held by residents of D.C. Similarly, a significant 60% of the cannabis industry workforce should be comprised of individuals living in the District. Licenses covering various aspects of cannabis operations, including cultivation, distribution, manufacturing, retailing, and testing, would be valid for a three-year period. After this timeframe, their renewal or termination would be determined by market demand dynamics.


If this Act is enacted, the initial six months would reserve off-premises retail and cultivation licenses exclusively for holders of medical marijuana licenses. Lastly, the Act would also rename the “Alcohol and Beverage Regulation Administration” to the “Alcohol Beverage and Cannabis Administration,” reflecting its expanded responsibilities.

Comprehensive Cannabis Regulation and Legalization Act of 2021

On March 1, 2021, Phil Mendelson, the Chairman of the D.C. Council, introduced a fresh legislative proposal. Rooted in the goal of preventing legal marijuana from entering illicit markets, this Act envisions the implementation of a robust “seed-to-sale” monitoring system. However, its scope goes beyond that. The Act is committed to creating a social equity framework, aiming to establish business opportunities primarily for individuals who have faced historical disadvantages due to past cannabis-related issues.

Delving into its financial intricacies, a significant 50% of the tax revenue generated from cannabis sales in D.C. would be purposefully directed back into the communities that were disproportionately affected by the stigma surrounding marijuana. These funds would be transformed into grants, providing support to organizations leading the charge against pressing social issues like homelessness, poverty, unemployment, and gun-related violence within the boundaries of D.C.

Expanding its scope even further, the “Cannabis Legalization and Regulation Act” envisions a comprehensive expungement of D.C.’s legal records. Any arrests or convictions related to marijuana would be erased, providing individuals with a previous criminal record an opportunity to reset their punitive sentences.

“Gifting” Dispensaries in DC Eligible for Medical Cannabis Licenses

The presence of cannabis “gifting” services in DC is symptomatic of the city’s secondary status within the US. Although residents voted to legalize marijuana in 2014, Congress’s ongoing prohibition on legal recreational sales has essentially given rise to a gray market. Here, recreational users must purchase other items and then receive a cannabis product as a “gift.” The DC Council is set to consider emergency legislation on Tuesday—a common legislative tactic in the District that bypasses Congressional review. This legislation aims to boost the prospects of medical marijuana businesses while cracking down on gifting services.

The legislation, put forth by Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, seeks to address concerns raised by medical dispensaries regarding the unequal regulatory standards faced by “I-71” enterprises. This term originates from Initiative 71, the 2014 ballot measure that legalized cannabis. These businesses operate under a less stringent regulatory framework and thus, some argue, gain an unfair competitive edge. Under the new bill, unregistered marijuana businesses in DC could be subject to closure for up to 96 hours and face fines, along with penalties for their landlords. Simultaneously, individuals interested in obtaining a medical cannabis card would have the option to “self-certify” their need and subsequently make purchases from medical dispensaries.

Anaïs Hayes serves as the COO and co-founder of District Derp, an I-71 enterprise comprising a team of ten individuals working either full-time or part-time. Hayes predicts that shifting all business operations to medical dispensaries could potentially result in increased prices. Currently, only seven medical dispensaries hold licenses for operation in the District. While the legislation aims to expand this number, the existing market would experience an immediate disruption. According to Hayes, it would likely take “at least a couple of months” for new dispensaries to initiate operations. She expresses concern that the supply may not be able to keep up with the demand. On a more immediate note, Christopher Licata, District Derp’s CEO and co-founder, states that once the legislation takes effect, they will be compelled to close the doors of District Derp.

The Marijuana Employment Protections Amendment Act of 2022

Taking effect on July 13, 2023, a groundbreaking piece of legislation is set to provide a protective shield for cannabis enthusiasts in the District of Columbia. As outlined in this progressive legal mandate, businesses will no longer be allowed to discriminate against individuals who use marijuana. Importantly, the mere detection of cannabis traces in drug tests will no longer be a valid basis for unfavorable employment decisions. This means that a wide range of prejudicial actions—such as refusing a job offer, unjustifiable terminations, hindering promotions, or unwarranted demotions—due to cannabis consumption, eligibility for medical marijuana, or even non-intoxicating positive test results, will be considered beyond the realm of employer discretion.

Medical Marijuana Emergency Amendment Act of 2022

Commencing on July 6, 2022, an innovative regulation allows residents aged 21 and above to independently assert their eligibility for medical cannabis use, eliminating the usual requirement of approval from a licensed medical professional. This legislative initiative aims to provide adults (21 years and older, who are valid residents of DC) with an interim pathway to access medical marijuana, considering the current absence of a recreational cannabis framework. Individuals interested in utilizing this self-attestation privilege can submit their requests through digital platforms, in-person interactions, or traditional postal methods to the following address:

Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration

2000 14th Street NW

Suite 102A (Ground Level)

Washington, DC 20009

In this effort, it is crucial for applicants to clearly state their intention to exclusively engage with cannabis obtained from one of the city’s seven authorized dispensaries, thereby aligning themselves with the self-verification framework.


Is recreational marijuana use legal in Washington DC?

  • Yes, recreational use of marijuana by adults 21 and older is legal in Washington DC.

How much marijuana can an individual legally possess in DC?

  • An individual can possess up to two ounces of marijuana for personal use.

Can I grow my own marijuana plants in DC?

  • Yes, residents of DC can cultivate up to six marijuana plants, of which only three can be mature and flowering at one time. This is on a per-household basis, not per person.

Where can I legally consume marijuana in Washington DC?

  • Marijuana can only be consumed on private property in DC. Public consumption, such as in parks or on the street, is illegal.

Can I sell marijuana in DC?

  • No, the sale of marijuana remains illegal. However, it can be given as a gift without exchange of money, goods, or services.

Are there any licensed dispensaries for recreational marijuana in DC?

  • As of my last training data in 2021, Washington DC does not have retail dispensaries for recreational marijuana. However, there are medical marijuana dispensaries for registered patients.

Can non-residents of DC purchase marijuana within the district?

  • While non-residents can legally possess marijuana in DC, they cannot purchase it from medical dispensaries without a DC medical marijuana card.

If I’m employed in DC, can my employer still test me for marijuana?

  • Yes, employers in DC retain the right to have their own drug policies, including testing for marijuana.

Is driving under the influence of marijuana legal in DC?

  • No, driving under the influence of marijuana remains illegal and can lead to DUI charges.

Can I travel out of DC with marijuana?

  • No, taking marijuana across state lines is a federal offense, regardless of the marijuana laws in the neighboring state.

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