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The Cannabis Law in Washington, DC

Personal Use

These are the rules:

  • Just like alcohol, marijuana can only be possessed or grown by adults. Currently, you must be 21 years and older to do either in DC.
    • These rules apply to all adults, even visitors from out of state.
  • The most you can possess is:
    • Up to 2 ounces of marijuana
      • Either on your person and/or in your household
  • Adults can also grow their own plants at home.
    • Up to 6 marijuana plants can be cultivated at one time
      • No more than 3 can be mature or flowering plants at once
    • No more than a total of 12 plants can be cultivated in a single household no matter how many adults live there
      • No more than 6 can be mature or flowering at once
  • Adults 21 and over can share marijuana with other adults. The rules are:
    • Up to 1 ounce can be transferred
    • All transfers “are to be free of remuneration” – meaning, the marijuana is a gift
      • No money can change hands
  • The sale and/or use by adults of paraphernalia related to marijuana consumption, cultivation, or processing is allowed.
  • To learn more about what adults can and cannot do under I-71, see the DC Cannabis Campaign’s answers.

A Word About Medical Marijuana

The measure to make medical marijuana legal in Washington, DC was passed by voters in 1998 but Congress successfully blocked the new law from taking effect until 2010. Fortunately, Initiative 71 legalizing recreational marijuana made no mention of nor had any impact on the medical marijuana program in DC.

  • Medical marijuana remains legal in DC and is regulated under a system that is completely separate from recreational marijuana.
    • The MMJ program is overseen by the DC Department of Health (DOH).
  • Patients will continue to be able to purchase medical marijuana from any of the licensed dispensaries operating in DC.
    • These dispensaries cannot sell marijuana to anyone who is not registered with the DC medical marijuana program.
  • In November 2016, the city council passed bill B21-210 that made significant improvements to the program:
    • The improvements went into effect in February 2017 after the required 30-day period of Congressional review
    • The law now requires independent laboratory testing of medical marijuana to ensure patient safety
    • The cap on the number of plants a medical marijuana cultivation facility can grow is increased to 1,000
    • A person with a misdemeanor drug conviction or a conviction for possession with intent to distribute marijuana is no longer prohibited from working in the medical marijuana industry
    • Once a planned district-wide electronic tracking system is in place, patients will be able to purchase marijuana from any licensed dispensary rather than only one

Buying Marijuana

You’re 21 years old and you want to buy marijuana in Washington, DC. Where can you get some?

  • If you’re a medical marijuana patient, you can purchase marijuana at any of the licensed dispensaries.
  • If you’re a recreational user, you cannot purchase marijuana anywhere – or from anyone.
    • The only way to legally obtain recreational marijuana in DC is by receiving it as a gift from an adult who is 21 years old or older
      • The gift can be 1 ounce or less of “usable marijuana”
      • Or a single marijuana plant to be grown in your home
  • DC residents are hoping that legislation establishing a regulatory framework for a recreational marijuana industry in DC passes soon

While residents of DC await the passage of legislation that would allow a regulated industry to be formed for the sale of recreational marijuana, some enterprising entrepreneurs are using the gifting clause of Initiative 71 in interesting ways.

  • Online delivery services have been established that remain compliant with the law by selling and delivering other products to customers, then giving an ounce or less to them as a gift.
    • Some even accept credit cards!
  • While somewhat questionable since they’re open to the public, some businesses that sell other things (food/drink/juices, t-shirts, backpacks, even art) tack on a small marijuana gift when a purchase is made.
  • Other folks are hosting and selling tickets to private events (discussion groups, internet television show recordings, private club parties) and then giving away free marijuana to ticket holders.


Where can you consume marijuana in Washington, DC?

  • You can legally consume cannabis products in DC if you are:
    • On private property
    • Outside the view of the general public (and on private property)
  • You cannot consume marijuana:
    • In public, including
      • On the street
      • In public parks
      • In bars and restaurants
      • In your vehicle
      • At sporting or other events
      • Anywhere smoking is banned
    • On federal land, including:
      • National parks
      • Federal courthouses
      • National monuments
      • Military bases
      • The National Mall

Police Enforcement

Driving High

Initiative 71 specifically states that it makes no changes to the current law related to “driving under the influence of marijuana or driving while impaired by marijuana.”

So what is driving high in Washington, DC?

  • There is no consensus in DC about how much marijuana in the system actually impairs driving as there is in Colorado or Washington state.
  • Instead, it is simply illegal to be under the influence of marijuana while driving.
  • And, a person suspected of driving under the influence has–simply by virtue of driving in the state–given “implied consent” to provide a blood or urine sample to police for testing.
  • With laws this murky, it’s best to avoid driving at all after consuming marijuana, no matter how little you consume.

How an officer can stop you:

  • An officer can stop you for another offense, such as speeding, illegal turn, expired tag, etc.
  • Or if they have probable cause that you are driving impaired. This includes:
    • Speeding
    • Swerving
    • Illegal actions of any kind
    • Other suspicious driving activity
  • The District of Columbia also allows law enforcement to set up random roadblocks to check both motorist operation without a license and/or operation with impaired ability due to intoxication.

What happens when they stop you:

  • They will ask some questions, observe your behavior, and probably have you take a preliminary breath test.
  • If you pass the breath test–meaning no alcohol is detected–then they’ll conduct field sobriety tests to determine your level of impairment. The test can be:
    • Walk the Line Test–you’ll be asked to walk in a straight line and the officer will watch for lack of balance, inability to stay on a straight line, or breaks in walking.
    • One Leg Stand Test–you will be asked to raise your foot, be still, count, and look down, and the officer will watch for swaying, hopping, or putting your foot down.
  • They’ll also look for:
    • Dilated pupils
    • The smell of pot
    • Eyelid or body tremors
    • Especially relaxed and uninhibited behavior
    • Short term memory problems
  • If you fail the field sobriety test and/or an officer has other probable cause to suspect you’re driving while high, he or she can arrest you and require you to take a chemical test to determine if there is THC in your system.
    • If you refuse the testing, the officer then has to inform you that your driver’s license will be revoked for 1 year if you do not submit.
    • If after being informed of this, you continue to refuse, the officer will revoke your license on the spot and take you to jail.
  • Learn more about the laws and penalties related to drugged driving in DC from NORML.

Penalties for driving under the influence of marijuana include:

  • For a first offense:
    • A fine of $300
    • Possible imprisonment for up to 90 days
  • For a second offense:
    • A fine of $1,000 to $5,000
    • Imprisonment of not less than 5 days but up to 1 year
    • Possible community service of at least 30 days
    • Possible license suspension of 1 year
  • For a third offense:
    • A fine of $2,000 to $10,000
    • Imprisonment of not less than 10 days but up to 1 year
    • Possible community service of at least 60 days
    • Possible license suspension of 2 years
  • Learn more about the penalties for drugged driving from the DC Metropolitan Police Department.

Other Legal Information

Possession of usable marijuana:

  • More than 2 ounces is a misdemeanor with up to 6 months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Our nation’s capitol has a little work to do in regard to how to handle cultivation of more than the maximum number of plants adults are allowed to grow.

  • They say there is no penalty and no fine for having up to 6 plants per adult (or 12 per household)
  • But they do not yet define penalties for having more than 6 plants.
    • Most legal experts believe DC will view more than 6 plants as intent to distribute and will apply penalties accordingly.

Sale, distribution, or intent to distribute:

  • 1/2 pound or less (first offense) is an unclassified offense with up to 6 months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
  • A subsequent offense carries a penalty of up to 2 years in jail and a $5,000 fine.
  • Distribution to a minor means additional penalties.
  • Distribution within 1,000 feet of a school, day care center, or public recreational area (including pools, playgrounds, video arcades, youth centers, and public libraries) doubles the penalties.

Possession and/or sale of paraphernalia:

  • Possession for personal use or at home has no penalty for adults 21 and over.
  • If you’re under 21, possession of paraphernalia will result in a fine of $100 and up to 30 days in jail.
  • Sale of paraphernalia, first offense, results in a fine of up to a $1,000 and up to 6 months in jail.
  • Sale of paraphernalia, subsequent offenses, results in a fine of up to a $5,000 and up to 2 years in jail.

TOTALLY HIGH TOURS The Cannabis Law in Washington, DC Personal Use These are the rules: Just like alcohol, marijuana can only be possessed or grown by adults. Currently,

Know the Law

Initiative 502 legalized marijuana use for adults however there are still a number of restrictions. It is important for you to be aware of the following laws:

  • Age Limit – Only adults age 21 and older can purchase and possess marijuana.
  • Purchase Limits – Adults age 21 and over can purchase up to one ounce of useable marijuana (the harvested flowers, or “bud”), 16 ounces of marijuana-infused edibles in solid form, 72 ounces in liquid form, and 7 grams of marijuana concentrates.
  • Buying and Selling – Marijuana can only be sold and purchased at state-licensed retail stores. A valid photo ID is required, and no one under 21 is allowed on the retail premises. Many retail marijuana stores only accept cash.
  • Public Use – It is illegal to consume marijuana in view of the public.
  • Driving – It is illegal to drive under the influence of marijuana if you have more than 5 nanograms of active THC per milliliter of blood. Doing so may result in significant legal penalties.
  • Travel – It is illegal to take marijuana outside of Washington. Doing so may result in significant legal penalties.

Know the Law Initiative 502 legalized marijuana use for adults however there are still a number of restrictions. It is important for you to be aware of the following laws: Age Limit –