Over the last several years, DC marijuana laws have changed drastically. For decades in the District of Columbia, the law considered marijuana a schedule 1 drug and criminalized possession for personal use. Possession of marijuana used to carry a maximum penalty of 180 days in jail and or a $1,000.00 fine.
Why did DC legalize marijuana?
However, things started to change after the American Civil Liberties Union released a damning study against DC law enforcement regarding the racial disparity in marijuana law enforcement. The War on Marijuana in Black and White explained that DC had the second largest racial disparity in marijuana arrests behind Iowa. According to the report, DC arrested 1,489 African Americans to 185 white Americans per 100,000 residents. That made the city’s black residents more than 8 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana than its white residents.
The report put DC’s arrest rate for black citizens for marijuana arrests at 91 percent. The report’s findings lead to a large public outcry and the City Council acted in response by decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana. However, decriminalization did not last long because pro-marijuana advocates lead by the DC Cannabis Campaign successfully got a ballot initiative to legalize marijuana in the 2014 elections. The city’s residents passed Initiative 71 by about 65 percent.
When did DC legalize marijuana?
Accordingly, in 2015, the City Council enacted the ballot initiative into law and passed legislation legalizing possession of up to two ounces of marijuana. Its important to note throughout this post that marijuana possession remains illegal under federal law and that any discussion of legalization only applies to local DC law. The legislation also allows individuals to grow a small number of marijuana plants in their home.
Why doesn’t DC have recreational dispensaries?
Subsequent to passing the legalization legislation, a Republican congressman Andy Harris from the State of Maryland who represents the District in and around Ocean City has each year snuck a rider into United States congressional legislation blocking the city from using its funds to create legalized recreational dispensaries like other states (Colorado, Washington State, etc.). He puts this rider in every year in an effort to impose his will on close to 700,00 District residents whom he does not represent.
Due to unwarranted meddling by this dinosaur congressman from another state, despite legalization, the District has no lawful mechanism to distribute marijuana. Accordingly, the law remains in a state of contradiction: its legal to purchase and possess marijuana in DC but not legal to sell it. This contradiction has lead to problems in prosecution, enforcement, and regulation of marijuana in DC.
Accordingly, possession with intent to distribute remains a crime and while the legalization law allows individuals to gift cannabis, it prohibits individual sales. Around 2017, 2018, the Metropolitan Police Department began cracking down on these so-called grey area companies that host events and gift marijuana in exchange for purchasing some other unrelated item like a t-shirt.
In addition to sales remaining criminalized, it also remains illegal to smoke marijuana in public. The law for public marijuana consumption closely mirrors the District’s law for possession of an open container of alcohol in public. Its illegal to smoke or ingest weed in any park, alley, street, sidewalk, or parking area as well as any publicly accessible private establishment (like a bar or club). The maximum penalty for public consumption of marijuana is sixty days in jail and/or a five hundred dollar fine.
The OAG’s office prosecutes smoking marijuana in public arrests and usually offers diversion or a post and forfeit. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for DC prosecutes possession with intent to distribute as well as possession of hashish cases (the legalization law does not apply to hashish).
Can I seal marijuana arrests or convictions in DC?
The legalization law also amended the District’s criminal record sealing statute. The law now provides that anyone convicted or arrested for marijuana possession prior the City Council legalizing it, can have their arrest and/or conviction record sealed. Unlike other types of motion to seal, there is no waiting period required or burden to prove actual innocence. To seal a record for a legalized or decriminalized offense, the burden is on the government to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the conduct in the prior case was not subsequently legalized or decriminalized.
Do I need a DC marijuana lawyer?
If you or a friend or loved one has been arrested for some type of marijuana offense like smoking in public, possession with intent to distribute, or possession of hash, you should absolutely seek out a DC marijuana lawyer. In addition, if you are attempting to distribute or gift marijuana through private events or other donation-based system, you should absolutely consult with a DC marijuana lawyer to find out what you are potentially exposing yourself and your employees to. At Scrofano Law PC, we can represent you after arrest and inform you of the risks you are taking in any marijuana related business. Contact us today for a full case evaluation.