A bill by the Washington, D.C. council was not overruled by Congress and so Medical cannabis became legal on January 1, 2011.
The voters of Washington, D.C. first approved medical cannabis in 1998 with the passage of Initiative 59 (I-59), which received 69% of the vote and earned majority support in every voting precinct in the District. However, the law was blocked by Congressional action, because unlike States, Congress has constitutional authority over the laws of the District of Columbia. Congress blocked I-59 from being adopted into law through a budget rider that became known as the Barr Act, after Congressman Bob Barr (R-GA) who authored the prohibition imposed on the District. This legislation was attached by Congress to the District’s budget every year until December 2009.
Although the District was free to implement I-59, the District’s election laws do not make voter initiatives binding, and therefore D.C. Council is free to amend initiatives before passing them into law. In January 2010, the D.C. Council introduced B18-0622: Legalization of Marijuana for Medical Treatment Initiative of 2010 as a replacement for the text in I-59.
Despite being approved by nearly 65% of D.C. voters, Congress acted in December of 2014 to stop Initiative 71 by limiting the district from using funds to enact the new law. They passed an omnibus spending bill with language barring D.C. from using any funds to “enact any law, rule, or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce penalties associated with the possession, use, or distribution of any schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act”. This bound the hands of D.C.’s mayor and city council and prevented them from complying with the will of their constituents. Congressional Republicans even threatened D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser with jail time for misappropriating funds if she allowed Initiative 71 to move forward.
In 2015, the plant count was increased to 1,000 plants through emergency legislation. As of October 2015, legislation was pending in the Council to make the plant count increase permanent, add lab testing of medicine, and allow reciprocity for non-District resident patients.
However, recent news out of D.C. provides the means for legal cannabis in our nation’s capital to move forward. Late in March 2016, the D.C. Superior Court upheld the Local Budget Autonomy Act of 2012, giving D.C. greater control over its budgets and administration. It also opens the door for expanded recreational cannabis when a current ban expires in the end of September 2016.
In November 2016, the D.C. Council passed a bill, B21-210 that requires DOH to license independent laboratories for product testing, removed drug conviction restrictions on individuals allowed to work in dispensaries and cultivation centers and requires the DOH to create a District-wide tracking system that will then allow patients to visit any dispensary and will allow reciprocity to patients registered in other states. There are currently 5 dispensaries serving patients in DC.
In July 2014, Washing DC passed emergency legislation to lift the physician restrictions on determining qualifying conditions in Washington DC
To become registered, a patient must receive a recommendation from physician who is licensed to practice medicine in the District.
Patients and caregivers in D.C. must register to a specific dispensary and may only purchase medical cannabis products and paraphernalia from that dispensary. Those who wish to switch dispensary membership may do so with 14 days notice by submitting paperwork and a fee to the D.C. Department of Health (DOH).
Patients whose income is less than 200% of the federal poverty level are eligible for reduced fees and medicine prices.
Cannabis Grow Limit:
In July 2014, Washing DC passed emergency legislation to increase cultivation center plant limit from 95 to 500 plants. In 2015, they increased the plant limit to 1,000 plants.
It is legal for a person who is at least 21 years old to cultivate within their residence up to 6 marijuana plants, no more than 3 of which are mature.
Cannabis Possession Limit:
Persons at least 21 years + can: (patients or caregivers)
- Possess two (2) ounces or less of marijuana (or equivalent other forms);
- Patients and caregivers may obtain no more than 2 ounces of cannabis in a 30-day period.
- Transfer 1 ounce or less of marijuana to another person who is at least 21 years old, so long as there is no payment made or any other type of exchange of goods or services;
- Possess marijuana-related drug paraphernalia that is associated with 1 ounce or less of marijuana;
- Use marijuana on private property.
Is it decriminalized?
There are now reduced penalties for possession of 1 oz. of marijuana to a $25 civil fine without jail. This bill was signed by the Mayor and took effect in July 2014.
Washington D.C. licensed a very limited number of cultivation centers in 2013/2014. There is no system presently in place to permit the issuance of additional licenses.
Currently only permits cultivation by registered cultivation centers to supply medical cannabis dispensaries, and those centers are restricted to growing no more than 95 plants.
Distribution/DispensariesWashington D.C. licensed a very limited number of dispensaries in 2013/2014. There is no system presently in place to permit the issuance of additional licenses. There are currently 5 dispensaries serving patients in DC.
Washington DC legalized medical marijuana on Jul 27, 2010
Important Cannabis Laws
B21-210 (2016) : requires DOH to license independent laboratories for product testing, removed drug conviction restrictions on individuals allowed to work in dispensaries and cultivation centers and to create a District-wide tracking system that will then allow patients to visit any dispensary and will allow reciprocity to patients registered in other states.
Initiative 71 (2014) : Agencies and other employers are not required to allow the use or possession of marijuana in a workplace. In addition, employers may continue to enforce policies restricting marijuana use by their employees, and property owners may prohibit or regulate marijuana-related activities on their properties. For those under 21, it left in place the decriminalization law, which imposes a $25 civil fine.
Allows possession, purchase, and transportation of up to two ounces of marijuana for personal use by adults 21 and older. In addition, personal cultivation of up to six marijuana plants, with no more than three being mature, by adults 21 and older in their personal residences. Adults may possess all of the cannabis grown by those plants at the same location.
Also allowed transfer of up to one ounce of marijuana by adults 21 or older to another adult 21 or older. All transfers are to be free from remuneration; sales are still prohibited.
Use or sales of paraphernalia for marijuana use, cultivation, or processing is also now legal.
Emergency and Proposed Rulemaking – Chapter 53 of Title 22-C DCMR (“use it or lose it” rules for business license holders)