Washington, D.C. Mayor Signs Medical Pot Bill

The recently passed bill, called the Medical Cannabis Amendment Act of 2022 (B24-0113), was sponsored by Chairman Phil Mendelson of the Washington, D.C. Council in February 2021. The Washington, D.C. Council voted unanimously to pass on Dec. 20, 2022, followed by Bowser signing the bill on Jan. 30, just two days before a response was due on Feb. 1.

The bill expands the capital’s medical cannabis program in many ways, including lifting the cap on dispensaries, creating new license types, and codifies emergency measures passed in 2021 and 2022.

Originally the amendment proposed implementing an increased cap on dispensaries, but was later revised to include no maximum number (although the Alcoholic Beverage and Cannabis Board is given the power to establish a cap one year from the passage of the bill in January 2024).

It also authorizes the creation of more cannabis license types, including cannabis delivery services, online sales, educational programs, and areas dedicated to cannabis consumption. “At least half” of all licenses given to currently unlicensed businesses will be given to social equity applicants (defined as those who are D.C. residents with low income, have spent time in prison for cannabis-related charges, or are related to someone who was affected by the War on Drugs).

Medical cannabis was legalized in Washington D.C. in 2010, and an attempt to legalize adult-use cannabis was passed by voters in 2014 through Initiative 71. While it allows possess of up to two ounces of cannabis and home cultivation, it also allows adults to gift up to one ounce of weed to another adult, which created the loophole of gifting (or a way to get around cannabis sale restrictions by selling merch or apparel with a gift of cannabis for free). The Medical Cannabis Amendment Act of 2022 seeks to target those unlicensed businesses, giving them a path to obtain a legal license.

The act also codifies emergency measures that were implemented for cannabis. This includes the emergency measure that provides support for Washington, D.C. patients with expired cards and help struggling dispensaries as well, which was passed in November 2021. In July 2022, Bowser signed a bill allowing adults to self-certify themselves as medical cannabis patients.

Overall, enforcement action related to these changes won’t be implemented until 315 days have passed since the signing of the bill, which would be later this year in December. It also needs congressional review before officially taking effect.

Also recently in Washington, D.C., Mendelson the Second Chance Amendment Act of 2021 (B24-0063) is under congressional review. This would implement automatic expungement through “automatic sealing for non-dangerous, non-convictions as well as shorten the waiting periods before a person is eligible to seal their record. It would also expand the eligibility of who can seal their record.” All expungements would need to be processed before Jan. 1, 2025. If congress doesn’t make a move against the bill, its projected law date is set for March 16, 2023.

Mendelson also recently introduced another bill (B25-0052) on Jan. 19, which aims to legalize adult-use cannabis sales. The proposal includes a “Reparations for Victims of the War on Cannabis Fund,” which would offer anywhere between $5,000 to $80,000 to pay those who were negatively affected by cannabis criminalization. It also includes a “Cannabis Equity and Opportunity Fund,” which would gather up 40% of revenue to go toward loans or grants for applicants affected by criminalization. Additionally, the bill details a plan to reinvest cannabis tax revenue into community services such as mental health treatments and youth development.

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Washington, D.C. Cannabis Company Sues City, Demands Return of $750,000

A Washington, D.C. cannabis company called Mr. Nice Guys DC recently sued the city for seizing more than $750,000 in cash during raids that occurred in 2021.

Mr. Nice Guys DC co-owners Damion West and Gregory Wimsatt seek justice for the money the police seized. “I’m going to be a voice for the people who don’t have a voice,” West told News4. “I’m not going to stand for it. We have done nothing wrong. We’re operating in a gray space that they created, and the only thing we want is our money back.”

“Like, where is the justice? They come in, kick in our door, raid us, you know take our money,” Wimsatt said.

In August 2021, police raided two Mr. Nice Guys DC dispensaries. The lawsuit describes the raid in greater detail, showing how the police took “$67,000 and destroyed two ATMs at the shop while searching the Ninth Street location. A spokesperson for DC’s Metropolitan Police Dept. (MPD) said three people were arrested at the store and charged with possession with intent to distribute marijuana and possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance. The U.S. attorney’s office for the District of Columbia chose not to prosecute those who were arrested,” the lawsuit reads.

The case against Mr. Nice Guys DC was dropped, but the co-owners never got their cash back. “Defendant District of Columbia’s D.C. police (MPD) routinely and unlawfully holds cash seized from individuals who have been arrested—many of whom are never charged with a crime—for months or even years past the point where the government might have any continuing legitimate interest in retaining said cash while providing no process to challenge that retention,” the lawsuit states.

“It’s been close to about $800,000 in product and cash. What we specifically asked for in this case was just the cash. That’s not including loss of damages in product. We’ve had other situations where they’ve actually banned us from our location,” Wimsatt explained.

The co-owners’ attorney, Charles Walton, told The Washington Post that the main goal of the lawsuit is to retrieve the seized cash. “D.C. police failed to return the seized money after investigations concluded and related criminal charges were withdrawn or dismissed,” Walton said. “Our goal is to have them produce the information associated with the chain of custody of that money, and to just return it.”

Cannabis dispensaries operate in a gray area in Washington D.C. Adult-use cannabis is legal, as voters approved it back in 2014, and possession, home cultivation, and gifting is allowed. Due to the “Harris rider,” (named in reference to Rep. Andy Harris) a Congressional rider that has been included in the 2014 omnibus bill prevents sales from being legal. To work around this, local dispensaries like Mr. Nice Guys DC sell non-cannabis items and customers receive cannabis as a “gift” with purchase.

In August 2022, Washington, D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration announced that it would be inspecting unlicensed cannabis businesses. By September, the inspections were delayed, creating more uncertainty about the future of these businesses.

Luckily, medical cannabis patients have remained a focus for Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, who signed a bill in July to allow patients to self-certify themselves for a cannabis prescription, rather than waiting for a doctor’s recommendation. “We have made it a priority over the years to build a more patient-centric medical marijuana program and this legislation builds on those efforts,” Bowser said. “We know that by bringing more medical marijuana patients into the legal marketplace in a timely manner and doing more to level the playing field for licensed medical marijuana providers, we can protect residents, support local businesses, and provide clarity to the community.”

On October 20, Bowser also signed a bill that allows tourists to self-certify for medical cannabis as well. With this new law, tourists may obtain a 30-day registration to purchase from dispensaries when they visit the nation’s capital.

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Washington, D.C. Officials To Begin Inspections of ‘Gifting’ Shops Next Month

Regulators in the nation’s capital announced last week that they will start inspections of unlicensed cannabis businesses to verify compliance with various laws.

The Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration said that a “Joint Cannabis Task Force,” which consists of “various [Washington, D.C.] government agencies,” will start visiting the businesses next month following a 30-day grace period.

Although voters in D.C. passed an initiative that legalized recreational cannabis all the way back in 2014, the sale of weed is still technically illegal due to a congressional ban.

Businesses there have found a loophole through the practice of “gifting”: a customer pays for an item like a t-shirt and is in turn “gifted” some cannabis.

The practice has upset many of the medical cannabis operators in Washington, D.C., who have said that the illicit shops are cutting into their business.

In April, the D.C. City Council rejected a proposal, which was backed by the medical marijuana industry, that would have levied harsher fines on businesses that engage in gifting.

The inspections that were announced by the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration will be done to ensure that the unlicensed cannabis businesses “abide by the regulatory requirements of DC Health, the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA), the District of Columbia Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department (FEMS), and the Office of Tax and Revenue (OTR).”

The administration detailed those laws:

  • “DC Health—Edibles and other manufactured products being offered by businesses to customers must be approved by DC Health; businesses also must be in compliance with DC food safety and hygiene laws.”
  • “DCRA—Businesses operating in the District must be registered with DCRA; businesses also must be in compliance with the District’s general business requirements such as having the proper business license and Certificate of Occupancy.”
  • “FEMS—Businesses must be in compliance with DC fire code regulations such as having a clear path of egress for customers and having properly working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.”
  • “OTR—Businesses must register with OTR and pay taxes in DC.”

“Joint agency inspections will take place unannounced after the 30-day grace period to verify the compliance of operating businesses with legal requirements. Businesses in violation may be subject to a fine or other enforcement action permitted by the statutory authority of each respective enforcement agency,” the administration said in the announcement last week.

According to The DCist, “many of the gifting businesses say that they are already in compliance with D.C. business regulations and pay taxes on the products they sell.”

Lonny Bramzon, an attorney and owner for one of the gifting shops in D.C., told the website that he doesn’t see the administration’s announcement “as necessarily targeting marijuana, though he thinks it may be an easy way for D.C. to close down operators who haven’t followed city regulations.”

“It seems that ABRA isn’t concerned with the instrumentality of the gifting. It seems like they’re concerned with business licenses and certificates of occupancy,” Bramzon said. “If somebody is going to open a coffee shop, they’re going to get their licenses and do the inspections. But because of the nature of the [marijuana] business, there’s a higher chance people will open without the proper licenses. This might be a backhanded way to shut down some of those shops. I would like to make sure everyone has their licenses and is paying their taxes like everyone else.”

Earlier this year, the D.C. City Council passed a measure that allows medical cannabis patients in the district to “self-certify,” meaning they no longer need a doctor’s recommendation for a card.

The bill, signed into law last month by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, was hailed as an improvement for both patients, and medical cannabis providers who have been outpaced in sales by the gifting shops. 

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Washington, DC Mayor Signs Bill Allowing Medical Marijuana Self-Certifications

Washington, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser signed legislation this month to allow all adults in the nation’s capital to certify themselves to use medical marijuana. Under the bill, all adults aged 21 and older will no longer be required to submit a doctor’s recommendation to use medicinal cannabis when they apply for a medical cannabis identification card. Bowser signed the legislation into law on July 7, the week after the emergency ordinance was unanimously passed by Washington DC’s city council. After signing the Medical Marijuana Self-Certification Emergency Amendment Act of 2022, Bowser said that the bill would make it easier for patients to obtain medical marijuana from regulated sources.

“We’ve made it a priority over the years to build a more patient-centric medical marijuana program and this legislation builds on those efforts,” she said in a statement from the mayor’s office. “We know that by bringing more medical marijuana patients into the legal marketplace in a timely manner and doing more to level the playing field for licensed medical cannabis providers, we can protect residents, support local businesses and provide clarity to the community. I applaud the Council for moving forward this innovative solution to a complex issue, and I look forward to working with the Council and ABRA on permanent, more comprehensive medical marijuana legislation in the future.”

The bill was introduced by council members Mary M. Cheh and Kenyan R. McDuffie on June 27 and passed by a unanimous vote of the council the following day. Supporters of the measure maintain that the ordinance will simplify the process for patients to gain access to medical marijuana, particularly for those who have challenges visiting a doctor. Out of thousands of physicians practicing in Washington, DC, only 620 are registered to issue medical cannabis recommendations. Early this year, the city council passed a similar measure that allowed adults 65 and older to self-certify for medical marijuana card eligibility, but that ordinance expired on May 1.

Medical Marijuana Legalized in 2010

The Washington, DC city council legalized the use of medical cannabis in 2010 and decriminalized possession of marijuana in 2014. Later that year, voters passed a ballot measure that legalized the possession and cultivation of small amounts of recreational marijuana. City leaders would like to legalize and regulate commercial cannabis for use by adults, but action by Congress has prevented the implementation of a regulated recreational marijuana economy. Council members say that the new medical marijuana self-certification bill will also help address the city’s unregulated marijuana market, which has been emboldened by the 2014 ballot measure that legalized possession of cannabis by adults.

“Due to the lower barriers to access in the gray market, a significant number of medical marijuana patients have shifted from purchasing their medical cannabis from legal medical dispensaries to the illicit gray market, creating a significant risk to the long-term viability of the District’s legal medical marijuana industry,” McDuffie and Cheh said in a statement accompanying the emergency bill. “If this trend continues, it’s possible that gray market sales could wipe out the District’s legal cannabis dispensaries.

More than 40 unregulated cannabis dealers are taking advantage of a provision of Washington, DC’s recreational cannabis legalization initiative that permits adults to gift up to one ounce of cannabis to another adult. Following a popular scheme, these gifting businesses supply ostensibly free cannabis with the purchase of inexpensive merchandise at inflated prices. Representatives of the city’s seven licensed medical marijuana dispensaries say the unregulated competition poses a threat to their business.

“Savvy business owners have pushed the legal limits on the gifting industry,” McDuffie said before the city council voted on the ordinance. “I’ve had medical dispensaries that have reached out to me and my staff and say that if we don’t pass this measure, it could put their businesses into jeopardy.”

City leaders believe that eliminating the requirement for patients to receive a doctor’s recommendation to use medical marijuana will help prop up the city’s seven regulated medicinal cannabis dispensaries.

“Permitting patients to self-certify will provide a critical stopgap measure to help legal marijuana dispensaries retain and even win back medical marijuana patients from the illicit gray market,” reads the bill.

Brian Vicente, founding partner of the cannabis law firm Vicente Sederberg LLP, praised city leaders in the nation’s capital for the move to make legal marijuana accessible to all adults.

“The DC self-certification bill is one of the more interesting and bold cannabis policy proposals I’ve seen in my nearly 20 years of working in this space,” Vicente says. “This emergency legislation is the product of Congress’ continued obstruction of the District’s efforts to regulate cannabis for adult-use. It serves as functional legalization for all DC residents 21 or older who are willing to register with the local regulatory oversight agency for medical marijuana. It’ll immediately and vastly increase legal access to regulated medical cannabis for adults and bolster the District’s currently licensed cannabis businesses.”

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D.C. Council Says Workers Can’t Get Fired for Pot

Workers in the nation’s capital won’t have to worry about getting canned over cannabis, under a bill passed by the Washington, D.C. city council on Tuesday.

The measure, known as the “Cannabis Employment Protections Amendment Act of 2022,” was approved unanimously by the governing body.

It now awaits the signature of Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser. According to National Public Radio, if Bowser were to sign it, “the bill will become law after a 60-day congressional review and the bill’s publication in the District of Columbia Register.”

The bill does not apply to every employee working in D.C. As the Washington Post noted, the law would “[make] exceptions, however, for workers in ‘safety-sensitive jobs,’ including operators of heavy machinery, construction workers, police and security guards who carry weapons and medical professionals.” And, of course, the law would not protect the scores of federal employees from facing discipline if they tested positive for cannabis.

The federal government, however, continues to exert its authority over Washington, D.C.’s cannabis laws.

Voters in D.C. approved a measure legalizing pot use for adults back in 2014, but recreational cannabis sales are still illegal.

That’s because Congress, which has authority over D.C.’s laws, has barred the commercialization of weed in the city in every appropriations bill since the legalization measure passed eight years ago.

There was hope last year that Congress may finally end the restriction, after a draft bill introduced in the Senate last October did not include the provision.

Bowser’s camp applauded that at the time.

“The Senate appropriations bill is a critical step in recognizing that in a democracy, D.C. residents should be governed by D.C. values,” Bowser’s office said in a statement. “As we continue on the path to D.C. statehood, I want to thank Senate Appropriations Committee Chair, Senator Patrick Leahy, our good friend and Subcommittee Chair, Senator Chris Van Hollen, and, of course, our champion on the Hill, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, for recognizing and advancing the will of D.C. voters. We urge Congress to pass a final spending bill that similarly removes all anti-Home Rule riders, allowing D.C. to spend our local funds as we see fit.”

Republicans, however, were not pleased.

“This one-sided process has resulted in bills that spend in excess of the Democrats’ own budget resolution and fail to give equal consideration to our nation’s defense. Their bills are filled with poison pills and problematic authorizing provisions, and they remove important legacy riders on topics like terrorism, abortion, and immigration that for years have enjoyed broad support on both sides of the aisle,” Senate Appropriations Committee Vice Chairman Richard Shelby said at the time.

By March, Shelby and the Republicans won out, as the final version of the appropriations bill maintained the ban.

Groups such as the Drug Policy Alliance and the American Civil Liberties Union lamented the development, saying that Washington, D.C. “remains the only jurisdiction in the country that cannot regulate marijuana sales or fruitfully tap into the public health and safety benefits of legalization.”

“In one hand, Congress continues to make strides in advancing federal marijuana reform grounded in racial justice, while simultaneously being responsible for prohibiting the very jurisdiction that led the country in legalizing marijuana through this lens from being able to regulate it. This conflict and contradiction must end now,” Queen Adesuyi, Senior National Policy Manager for the Drug Policy Alliance, said in March.

Despite the ban, some retailers in Washington, D.C. have still managed to sell pot, often through the practice of “gifting,” through which a business sells a product (often a t-shirt or hat) and then provides the customer with a “gift” of weed.

In April, the D.C. City Council rejected a proposal to crack down on those retailers.

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