State Overview: Washington, D.C.

The District of Columbia faces unique obstacles in its path to achieve comprehensive recreational marijuana regulation. The District was one of the first places in the U.S. to adopt a medical marijuana program to regulate the manufacture, sale and use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, more than 10 years ago. More recently, the District approved adult-use cannabis, but Congress has used its power over the District’s budget to block implementation of the law, thereby creating a legal gray area in which one can possess, use and grow cannabis, but cannot purchase it without a medical card and a qualifying condition. This has resulted in a thriving gray market of gifting, trading and pop-up events and shops in the shadow of the Capitol.

The District has decriminalized marijuana by allowing people 21 and older to possess, purchase and transport up to two ounces of marijuana, grow up to six marijuana plants (no more than three of which are mature) and use marijuana on private property (which does not include subsidized housing). However, marijuana possession and use remain restricted on public and federal lands, which comprise a large part of the District. Adults may also transfer up to one ounce to another person who is at least 21 years old, so long as there is no payment or other type of exchange of goods or services. Contrary to the intent of decriminalization, the District has attempted to crack down on the gray market, resulting in increased marijuana prosecutions.

Under the District Medical Marijuana Program, first adopted in 2010, a District resident with a qualifying condition, as determined by a registered health-care practitioner, may register with the D.C. Department of Health and obtain a medical-use card. D.C. law allows for a broad range of qualifying conditions, and patients may purchase up to four ounces of marijuana every 30 days. D.C. recently amended its rules to allow reciprocity for medical cardholders from other states.

In May 2019, the District passed the Safe Cannabis Sales Act, which would regulate and tax the adult use and retail sale of marijuana in the District, but Congress blocked implementation of the law. There is no indication that this will change while Republicans control the U.S. Senate.

As of May 2020, District medical marijuana licenses included eight cultivators, seven dispensaries, and 596 registered health-care practitioners. The District currently has 6,792 patients and 52 caregivers registered for the program.

Sulee Stinson Clay | McKennon Shelton & Henn

Sulee Stinson Clay is a Harvard-educated lawyer with over 20 years of experience advising businesses and financiers on corporate finance, private equity, merger and acquisition and other commercial transactions. Sulee currently serves as Chair of the Corporate Group of McKennon Shelton & Henn, a minority and woman owned law firm based in Baltimore, Maryland. Sulee is also Chief Executive Officer of Stinson Bushnell Industries, doing business as Burnt Meadow Hemp, a 250-acre hemp farm and consumer product manufacturer located in Southeastern Colorado. Sulee’s understanding of the realities of operating a regulated business makes her a valuable adviser to cannabis and hemp businesses across the globe.


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